Friday, September 30, 2011

Maarjaala Nyaya and Markata Nyaya

We saw Leaders and Followers. We saw Elders and Youngsters. Both are relative. Just like relatives. A close relative may be kept far far away. A distant relative may be a closest friend. What about those Ahead of us and are Behind us?  There is a saying that there is no tallest tree in the world. Technically there should be one and I was shown one such tree in Redwood National Park in California. But when you actually start the search you will always find a bigger tree. 

In philosophy, there are many arguments about the relation between Bhakta (Soul or Devotee) and Bhagavanta (The Lord or God whatever). In fact philosophy probably only means argument, as it is based purely on Logic.  If argument is removed from Philosophy nothing will be left. Bhaktas are divided into two categories. They have to be divided, because we believe in divide and rule. To understand the two categories of Bhaktas  we have to understand Maarjaala Nyaya and Markata Nyaya.

What is so special about these Nyayas? Maarjaala is the Sanskrit word for Cat. Markata in Sanskrit means Monkey. Translated it becomes Cat Nyaya and Monkey Nyaya. To understand this, we have to observe how cats and Monkeys handle their little ones. When you closely observe the difference between Cats handling kittens and Monkeys handling baby monkeys (I am told there is no better word for baby monkeys!). Though both appear to be the same, the difference is very clear when closely observed.

Whenever a cat moves around with the kittens, it carries the young ones in its mouth. We know cats have sharp canines and any rough handling will result in serious injury to the frail kittens. A little carelessness in holding the kitten firmly will result in dropping the kitten to the ground, especially when the mother cats jump around. But the mother cat does take care of this. Holds the kitten firmly enough in the mouth so that they do not fall down and at the same time hold gently enough so that the kittens are not injured. Best example for firm and gentle at the same time. Automobile manuals refer to the brake this way. The brake should allow full and free movement of the wheel, but the braking effect should start at the slightest touch of the brake pedal!  Kittens have no responsibility at all. Mother cat assumes all the responsibility. This is Maarjaala nyaya.

When the mother monkey carries around baby monkeys, the baby monkey has to hold firmly to the belly of mother monkey. Mother monkey keeps moving and jumping around trees as if it is alone. If the baby monkey does not hold firmly, it will fall down and get seriously injured. Entire responsibility is of the Baby Monkey and mother has no responsibility.  This Markata nyaya.

The Bhaktas or souls are also divided into these two categories. First category comprises of those bhaktas whose entire responsibility is taken up by the Bhagavanta, the lord himself.  They have achieved such a level of Saadhana that the Lord does not want to miss them!  He assumes full responsibility for the souls and is at their beck and call. They are Maarjaala Nyayi bhaktas. All other souls are running behind the Lord  to please him and be with him. Pleasing the Lord is their responsibility and if they fail, they fall. These are Markata Nyayi bhaktas.

There are two famous Beluru in India.  Newer one is near Calcutta and is the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission. The original famous Belur is about 37 kms from Hassan and 233 kms from Bangalore. The old name for Belur was Veelapuri. Velapuri and Dorasamudra (now called Halebeedu which is 16 kms from Belur) were the capital cities of the Hoysala Kings. Belur's Channa Keshava temple and Halebid's Hoysaleswara-Shantaleswara temples are nearly 900 years old and are fine examples of Hoysala architecture. Anybody visiting Karnataka and Bangalore should not miss these temples. These temples have made Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana and his Queen Shantala Devi immortal. Beauty of these temple carvings cannot be expressed in words and they are to be seen to be believed. Both places can be visited from Bangalore in one day and there are regular daily tours by Karnataka Tourism and private operators.

There is a street next to the Channa Keshava temple in Belur, called Vaikhunta Daasa street. One saint by name Vaikhunta Dasa (Dasa means servant of the Lord) lived here in the 16th century. He was a contemporary of Saint Purandara Dasa and Saint Kanaka Dasa who lived in the golden period of Vijayanagar empire and King Krishnadevaraya.

Saint Kanakadaasa, one of the foremost writer, composer and social reformer of Karnataka came to Belur once wanting to have darshan of Lord Channa Keshava (meaning handsome Vishnu). He also wanted to see Saint Vaikhuntadaasa. It was nearly midnight when he arrived in Belur. He reached Vaikhuntadasa's house and being unwilling to wake up Vaikhuntadasa, slept outside the main door of the house. Early in the morning Vaikhuntadasa opened the door and found Saint Kanakadasa sleeping near the door. He felt very sad and asked Kanakadasa why he did not wake him up in the night. Kanakadasa said he did not want to disturb the sleeping Vaikhuntadasa. Vaikhuntadasa told Kanakadasa: "What have you done Sir? You are a Maarjalanyayi. I am only a MarkatanyayiYou are far ahead of me in Saadhana. Your sleeping outside my door will make the Lord go further away from me!". Saint Kanakadaasa is said to have comforted Saint Vaikhuntadasa with kind words and stayed with him for many days, accepting his hospitality.

If we start as Markata Nyayi now, one day we may reach the level of Maarjala Nyayi some day.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Elder or Younger?

Once I attended an interview for promotion from Manager to Senior Manager level. The four member interview committee was headed by a General Manager of the Bank. A highly respected man, he was known for his sharp reactions and witty repartee. Any answer to his question would result in a further question, a question drawn from the previous answer. Either way he would catch you.  A good person at heart, but he would enjoy cat and mouse game during discussions.

After all other members of the interview board were done with me General Manager looked at me and smiled. Calm before the storm. I was ready for the attack. Questions and answers went like this:

"Mr Murthy, Tell me why I should promote you?"
"I will work well and strive to achieve Organisational goals"
"That in any case you are already doing"
"Then it will be a reward for earlier hard work"

"Can you lead a team?
"Yes Sir, I can certainly lead a team"
"How do we know?"
"I am a Manager. I am already leading a team. My record shows it"
"Are you a good leader or good follower?"

The attack had shifted. He knew I was a Trade Union leader. I had to be careful in my answer.

"I am a good leader of my followers and a good follower of my leaders"
"I will ask your leader when I go to Delhi" He was referring to our big leader in Delhi.
"Please do ask him, sir. He will confirm this"

He smiled broadly. My interview was over. For the record, I was promoted.

I had another person at home who asked lot of questions.  My little daughter. Many questions on many things. Like all children. She would fire a question drawn from the previous answer. Like the General Manager. He had a question about Leaders and Followers. She had a similar question.  About elders and youngsters.

Once she told something impolite to my younger brother, her uncle. I admonished her and told her that she should not talk to elders like that. She asked me: "Is chikkappa an elder?".  I replied yes, not realising the implications. A few days later my younger brother said something impolite to our uncle.  I admonished him and told him that an youngster should not speak to elders like that. Little one was watching us. She had a question for me: "Other day you told me Chikkappa was elder. Today you said he is younger. Which is correct?  Is he elder or younger?".  I was stumped.  It took me a long while to explain to her that young and old is a relative term.  There is a maxim taught to trainers and teachers. If you cannot convince a trainee or a student, confuse him.  Probably she was confused at that age and kept quiet.

But not for long. She kept on asking "When I will become elder?".  Probably she was tired of being young. Probably she felt that we were keeping many things from her on the pretext that she was young. In those days, during functions, especially marriages, there was a practice of giving Taamboola to elders and plantain to youngsters after the main event. Tamboola packet generally used to contain a coconut. During the transition years, a girl would get  a coconut packet when she went in a Saree or a plantain if she went in a frock. A boy would get coconut packet if he was wearing a pant and plantain when wearing a half pant. Whether they were elder or younger was decided by the judgement of the person distributing the tamboola. I told her, in answer to her question, that she can consider herself as an elder when she gets a coconut tamboola in a marriage function. I hoped that the question will be postponed for a long time.

After some years, one day when I returned from the Bank, I saw her very excited and waiting for me. She had been to a marriage function and she was given a coconut tamboola! Well, now she was to be considered  an  elder by tamboola yardstick.

Yes, like I was a good leader of my followers and a good follower of my leaders, she was elder to all those younger to her and younger than all those who were elder to her.

As with every other rule there is an exception to this rule as well. In a conference of all Rishis one elderly Rishi was sitting with his young disciple. Another Rishi entered the place. All Rishis younger to him got up and paid their respects. Guru of this shishya continued to sit as he was elder than the incoming Rishi. After sometime sage Markandeya entered the place. Though Markandeya was only 16 year old and still a boy, everyone including this guru got up and paid their respects. The shishya was surprised and asked the guru why it was so. Guru replied: "Age alone is not an indication of seniority. The measure of Rishis is the amount of time spent in meditation and penance about the Lord. Sage Markandeya has spent all his years for the Lord and with the Lord. None of us can match him in this though all of us were born many years before him. Hence all of us stood up and paid our respects. We may be elder to him by age but are actually much junior to him in Saadhana".

Is the same not true of us? Should not our being elder or younger decided based on the utility and usefulness of the years lived by us?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Today it tastes differently...

This is another old story....Of the "Gurukula" period.

For a long long time Gurukula education system was being followed in India. When the child reached its eighth year (Garbhaashtama -eighth year including the period the child was in the womb of the mother) parents used to perform the holy Upanayanam (popularly called Thread ceremony, but it is much more) and leave the child in the custody of the Guru. The child would live in the Gurukula thereafter till completion of education. There was no prescribed fee, but the students did all the work of the Gurukula like fetching firewood, grazing cattle, cooking, washing etc. The Shishyas (students) lived with the Guru and pursued learning in their  chosen stream; some say there are 18 such streams : Rigveda, Yajurveda, Saamaveda, Atharvaveda, Shiksha, Vyakaranam, Chandas, Niruktam, Jyotisham, Kalpam, Meemamsa, Nyayam, Puraanam, dharmasastras, Ayurvedam, Dhanurvedam, Gandharvavedam and Arthashastam. Some others do not accept this classification and give their own classifications and arguments.

In the present collegiate system promotions from Lecturer to Reader to Assistant Professor to Professor is generally linked to length of service or qualifications such as Doctorate or Post-doctoral research. Thus any one can become a Professor on his own strength and need not depend on the service to the society. But in Gurukula system a strict grading system was being followed. Anyone completing his education  (a period of about 10 to 14 years) and starting teaching himself was called Upadhyaya. When his student completes his education and stars teaching, he will become Mahopadhyaya. When the student's student starts teaching he can be called Mahamahopadhyaya. When the fourth generation student starts teaching he would be eligible to become a Upakulapati and then Kulapati, similar to Vice-chancellor and Chancellor. The eligible person at this stage would be about 80 years old and hence Jnanavruddha (elder by learning) as well as Vayovruddha (elder by age). His service to the community is also well documented and available for verification in the form of his Shishyas and Prashishyas. No short cuts and no mere recommendations. Not just own efforts, but team work as well.

There was this young boy who wanted to join a Gurukula. He was an orphan and he had no guardian to admit him in the Gurukula. He would stand before the gate of the Gurukula each morning and wait for the Kulapati. Kulapati would see him but does not say anything. The boy would also see him but does not have the courage to ask for admission. This went on for some time. One day he mustered courage and asked for admission. The Guru told him that the Gurukul was full and it was not possible to take him. He left but reappeared after some days. This went on for some time. One day Gurupatni (Guru's wife) saw this boy waiting near the gate. She asked the Guru as to why the boy was not admitted. Guru told her that if the boy was serious about learning, he would come back. It was the Guru's way of testing the student's keenness to learn. The Guru finally admitted the boy in the gurukul after testing his true interest in learning.

The boy proved to be the best student the Guru ever had. His power of concentration on the subjects taught was extra-ordinary. He excelled at everything. But he was always lost in his own world and thinking about his lessons. It was customary to serve a spoon of Ghee to each student when the students sat for lunch. The Guru ordered Gurupatni to serve this boy a very small quantity of neem oil every day instead of ghee. Gurupatni was not willing but she had to comply with the order because the Guru told her it was for the good of the student. This went on for several years but the student used to eat his food like all others and never complained. Many of his fellow students completed their studies and left. New students joined. But this boy continued to study other subjects and ate his food with a tinge of neem oil every day.

After a long time,  one of the days food was again being served. Guru and other students and this boy, now a young man, were sitting in the line. Being the senior most student now he was sitting next to the Guru. As usual ghee was served to others and a small quantity of neem oil was served to this young man. He took a swallow, stopped in the middle and looked up. "What is the matter?", Gurupatni who was serving the food asked. "Today the food tastes differently", the young man said. "How different?", the Guru asked. "It tastes bitter", the student said. He was asked to push what was already served aside and eat fresh food served with the ghee.

Next morning Guru called Gurupatni and the young man to his study. He told the young man that his studies were completed and he had mastered everything the Guru himself knew. He blessed the young man and sent him away to live his own life.

There is a famous sloka, only a quarter of which is often quoted. It is something like this:

Kaamaaturaanam na bhayam na lajja,
Kshudaaturaanam na ruchirna pakvam,
Vidyaturaanaam na sukham na nidra,
Dhanaaturaanam na nyaayam na dharmam.

Meaning of the first stanza every one knows. The other stanzas mean something like this -  a hungry man does not know ruchi (taste) or level of cooking of the food served to him or he gets. For him overcooked and undercooked are the same. Someone keen on learning  does not think of sleep or sukha (Physical happiness). Those who are keen to make money do not worry about fairness or honesty in their dealings.

Some people also mention the last stanza as "Arthaaturaanam na Bandhurna mitram" which means that for those who are after money, there is no consideration of friends or relatives. Use these in any order you want, meaning is just the same.

For a student physical comforts should not mean anything. Only studies are of paramount importance. Of course, we are talking of Gurukula system which is long forgotten. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

You do not know typing...

During our visit to Montreal, Quebec, Canada earlier this month (September 2011), we were taken on a walking tour of the old Montreal city. Among the places and buildings shown were the head offices of Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Royal Bank of Canada. In fact, 4th September 2011 being a holiday (banks here work for 5 days a week unlike 6 days a week in India), we were taken inside the Main Branch of the of Royal bank of Canada in Saint James Street (also referred as Saint -Jacques street in french). As the tour guide was explaining the growth of Canadian Banking System and contribution of Montreal in it, my mind raced back by 37 years, to Bangalore.

I had joined Punjab National bank in the year 1973 at a small branch in Hubli. Working in a small branch has its own advantages. As the number of staff members is small, every staff member is required to learn to work in all sections; right from dispatching of letters and documents,  working in cash section and up to preparation of Balance Sheet. Those were the days of manual working  and bank work involved either calculating interest or totaling of figures in almost all transactions. Computers were nowhere in reckoning and one could never imagine how the banking scene would look four decades later. Interest on each account had to be calculated periodically as prescribed. All of us were given a book by name "Kapoor's Caluculator" for using in calculations, similar to Clark's Tables given then to students. Today, a single pressing of the key at the "Data Centre" will calculate interest of every single account in all branches of the bank! This has led to the reduction in the number of the staff and banking becoming impersonal as well.  Banks have even started charging a customer if he comes in person to the branches. Customer is encouraged to take Net banking or Tele banking route or whatever, except going to the branch and speak to a human being. Nature of work has also changed - it is mostly selling the products. We were expected to add two digits at a time, something unheard today. Towards the end of my service I have seen staff members pushing for a calculator to add two two-digit numbers. Computerization has brought lightening speed to banking. Considering the volume of transactions being done today, there would have been total chaos now if the manual system of working were still in force.  

In the seventies, basic work in the branches was done by people with three different designations - Cashiers, Godown keepers and Typists.  Every bank customer knows about Cashiers. A large part of bank's loans and advances portfolio comprised of money lent against physical securities. Banks had staff designated as "Godown Keepers" who would go to the borrower's shops, godowns and factories; take physical custody of the items or stocks, count them or weigh them or get done in their presence, store the same in specified godowns, lock them with bank's locks and deposit the keys with the branches at the end of the day. Thus the pledged stocks would be in the constructive possession of the bank. At the end of the day Godown keeper would provide the branch with statements of securities held, customer wise and the amount of moneys that could be lent to the borrower. The position would vary each day depending on the storage or delivery, delivery being made whenever the borrower needs the item and pays back the amounts borrowed against the securities. In busy market branches there would be several storage and releases each day and godown keepers were the most busy people. In places like Hubli, which is a major centre for trading in Cotton, Groundnut, Chillies, Pulses and such other items, Godown keepers were drawing more respect than other bank staff. Whatever may be the hierarchy inside the bank, for the outside world important persons were Managers followed by Godown Keepers and Cashiers.  Any staff member in a bank has to be a person of integrity and especially Godown Keepers because soundness of the lending portfolio depended on them notwithstanding all checks and balances in the system and the spate of inspections and Inspectors. Cashiers and Godown Keepers had to provide Security Deposits to the bank which could be forfeited if there was any dereliction of duty. Banks were also running verification of the antecedents of the persons before recruiting them and especially before assigning them such duties. The amount of deposit would be as much as one year's salary and emoluments and many staff members had to borrow the amount from outside sources before joining the service and repay them in due course. 

When I joined the bank I was initially designated as a Cashier. The volume of cash transactions was huge. Some of the merchants used to bring cash in gunny bags and dump it to be counted in due course of the day. Having joined in a small branch with limited staff I had the opportunity of working in all sections of the branch banking in a short time. After a year of working in Hubli I got transferred to to the main branch in Bangalore. My designation was changed to Godown keeper as the branch had a number of cashiers available and there was a shortage of Godown Keepers. Like all staff members I had a desire to become an all-rounder. The only sections left for working were Loans and foreign Exchange. These are two holy cows in the bank branches and getting entry was difficult in those days. As my handwriting was considered good, which every one says has improved over the years, I was able to get an entry into Loan section and could learn the work. This is a specialized field and for the next three decades I was mostly working in Loans portfolio - Credit appraisal, Disbursements, Monitoring and Recovery.

The one section left out was Foreign Exchange. Working in Foreign Exchange needed additional knowledge of International Banking and dealing in correspondence with Foreign Banks. Some knowledge of Loans section is also necessary. I had the necessary preliminary requirements. An entry was to be made. There were only two persons working in the section. I had to wait for an opportunity for one of them to leave the branch on promotion or transfer. But promotions were very slow in those days. I decided to request an entry without waiting for such an eventuality.

Branch Managers were generally not accessible to the members of the staff and were mostly in the field for business development. Even when in the branch, they used to deal with the senior staff. On a particular day a peon came to me and told me that I should meet the Manager. I hesitantly went to his cabin. He was studying some file, looked up and asked me whether I had written a letter placed before for his signature. I replied in the affirmative.  He complimented me for my good handwriting and expressed his happiness with my work. He asked me to sit, and it was a honour in those days because staff members hardly sat before the Manager.  He enquired about my background. After answering his questions I made a request for giving me an opportunity to work in Foreign Exchange section. He said that I was still a fresher and had less than two years of work experience and should wait for some more time before I get my chance. I was visibly disappointed and left the cabin.

The supervisor in charge of Foreign Exchange section was a Union leader and General Secretary of the Employees' Union. I was drafted for Union work in the early days of my career and he had included me as an office-bearer of the union, representing the younger crop of staff members. Manager came to his desk to enquire about some issue and suddenly told the supervisor about my request for working in Foreign Exchange. He also suggested that the Supervisor may consider giving me a chance to work in leave vacancies and in due course allow me to work as a regular in the section. The supervisor called me and told me in the presence of the Manager: "You do not know typing. Without knowledge of typing one cannot work in this section". My request had hit a road block.

My action point now was to learn typing through a crash programme. I was living in a building near Royan Circe in Chamarajpet area in Bangalore. In those typing was being taught in what were called  "Institute of Commerce". The institutes were teaching typing in English, local language Kannada and Shorthand (Stenography). The Institutes were preparing students to take up examinations conducted by the State Government at three levels; Junior, Senior and Proficiency. Pitman's Shorthand was taught mostly in evening classes and students who had passed at least senior typewriting were allowed to join such classes. Typists and Stenographers were in great demand and learning these skills was a sure way to secure a job in Government or Public Sector Enterprises as well as in Private Establishments. Parents used to proudly mention the fact of their children learning typing or stenography, especially in matrimony matters. I decided to enroll myself in one of the typing institutes. Srinivasa Institute of Commerce was near my residence and suited me. I went and met the supervisor with my request to admit me to one of the typing classes. Typing classes were usually supervised by one of the senior students learning stenography and the Principal of the institute (who usually was the owner) would rarely interact with the students. He would meet the students once before deciding whether the student should be allowed to sit in the examination, for they were worried at result percentage. Otherwise the supervisor was the boss. The supervisor I met in this Institute did not find me an interesting candidate since I was already employed. He told me flatly that the Institute was running full and there was no place for me until after the examinations which was six months away. This was too long a wait for me. Other Institutes were a little far off and commuting was difficult given my working hours in the bank.

I kept a vigil outside the Institute for about a week like a Private Detective, to find out a moment when the Principal was available but the Supervisor was away. One evening I found such an opportunity, went to the Principal's chambers and put up my request. I told him that my present job requires me to learn typing urgently and I may face difficulty otherwise. He was convinced and asked me to come the next day when the supervisor was available. Next day morning I went when the Supervisor was available but the principal was away.  I told him that the Principal had agreed to admit me subject to the Supervisor's approval as he had delegated all powers to the supervisor. In the evening when I again went to the Institute when both of them were present, the supervisor suggested one slot for me in the very first batch - from 6 AM to 6.45AM. I had no alternative but to accept it.

Kumar, who lived in the opposite room, always used to get up early. Those were days when few had alarm time pieces and there were no mobiles. I requested him to wake me up at 5.45 AM to enable me to get to the Institute at 6 AM. He put a condition. He will wake me up at 5 AM, then I should accompany him to "Maruti Vyayamashala" which was next to Scouts & Guides headquarters near "Makkala Koota" and after 'Vyayam" for 45 minutes I was free to go the Institute. Thus I was forced to enrol at the Vyayamshala as well!  A fine combination of growing brain and brawn together.

The institutes used to have about 20 typewriters arranged on small tables with stools for the candidates to sit. After each batch of students for a session of 45 minutes, the next batch would come in and this would go on till around 9 PM in the evening. No landlord living in the building would give his place on rent for an Institute. Neighbours would curse the landlord due to the continuous cracking of 20 typewriters at full throttle.We had to carry our own paper and carbon paper. There would be an assortment of typewriters - Halda, Remington, Godrej etc. The latest student would get the 20th typewriter which would be the most condemned typewriter in the institute. I got one such Halda typewriter and I had to use all the force at my command to make the keys hit the paper on the cylinder. Having been pounded for years by crude typing students, the keys had also become harder and less said the better about alignment of the types. It would not fetch any value even in the Gujari market. When I complained to my supervisor he mockingly told me that I should be grateful I got at least that and that I would get a feather touch machine in due course, when I learnt typing better. I was grateful to Kumar for the improved strength in the arms due to Vyaayam which helped pounding on such a typewriter.

After three months there was an agitation in the banks and employees went on strike. As a Union participating in the strike, we were to issue a circular to our members about details of the strike. The matter was discussed one evening and everyone left after the meeting. I stayed back and typed the full circular on the stencil paper (circulars were issued on cyclostyled sheets then) and next morning when the General Secretary came early to prepare the circular, gave him the ready sheet to sign. He read the contents and felt satisfied and signed the circular. He then looked up and said, "So, you now know typing and wanted to show me".  I smiled. From that day I was allowed entry into Foreign Exchange section as a Leave Reservist.  As my luck would have it, one of the regulars in the section got promoted in a few months making me a permanent fixture in the section.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (now known as CIBC) and Bank of Montreal were our correspondents in Canada. All remittances, import and export business of the bank for instruments drawn in Canadian Dollars were routed through these banks.  Thus I had the opportunity to deal with these banks as a representative of our bank. Later on when I became a Manager, I was privileged to sign many instruments sent to these banks.

After 37 years, on 4th September 2011, I was standing before the Head Office buildings of these banks where several documents handled by me over the years originated or were received and dealt with. One may say "What is the big deal about it?". It is indeed right, it is no big deal. But at a personal level,  it was a moment for me to look back over the years with some satisfaction.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony at Seattle

Attending a Ballet and a Philharmonic concert was my long time desire. The first one was realised when we attended a ballet in the Bastille auditorium in Paris in 2008. The date for being at a symphony was set on 22nd September 2011 in Seattle. I wish to declare in the beginning itself that I have no knowledge about a Philharmonic Orchestra or a Symphony. I understand that Symphony is any part of music played by an Orchestra - usually in several movements. I am also given to understand that there is no difference between a Philharmonic performance and a Symphony. When I looked up the available information before going to the event, I learnt that a philharmonic orchestra and a symphony orchestra are one and the same thing. They say "Philharmonic" actually translates to "music lover". In that sense I am myself a "Philharmonic"! The word probably has its origin in Greek. Some say it is in French. Does it really matter as long as the music is good? The argument is similar to "Vedarata" and "Vedavaadarata". The first group is interested in understanding what is in Vedas. The second group is interested in arguing about what is in Vedas. Let us belong to the first group and forget about the arguments.

City of Seattle boasts of having a major Symphony, Opera company and Ballet. All of them were functioning from the Seattle Center Opera House located in the Lower Queen Anne neighbourhood. Sharing the same space for three different activities was felt a serious constraint and the City Fathers planned for a separate centre for the symphony and construction of a hall with proper acoustics to meet the requirements of the Opera. The Opera moved to the "Benoraya Hall" in downtown's University Street, constructed at a cost of USD 118 million, in September 1998. This took care of a proper venue for Operas and avoiding performances in oversize or undersized halls not designed for symphony music. The Benaroya Hall is owned by the City of Seattle and the project was managed by The Boeing company of Seattle, home for the Boeing air crafts. The building consists of 1,89,750 Sft constructed area, 1,47,000 Sft Parking space and a 22,000 Sft Garden of Remembrance on the terrace. The building provides for two halls ; the rectangular S Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium for main concerts having a seating capacity of 2500 and the 540 seater Illslay Ball Nordstorm Recital Hall for performances by smaller ensembles and solo artistes. The halls meet all the prescribed requirements to seat disabled persons. the Seattle Symphony Orchestra alone presents more than 20 different subscription series and gives over 200 performances annually. Soundbridge Seattle Symphony Music Discovery Centre located in the building provides a dedicated space to act as a "Learning Center" for music lovers and students. The Benaroya Hall hosts over 700 public and private events annually with two or three events on week end days. There is an ATM available in the building if you are short of cash, but there is enough money in the account. There is provision for excellent food and drinks in the lounge to complement the music and make the evening well spent.

The shows are themselves planned and arranged systematically. They are basically in three parts; reminding us of the Prologue, the Play and the Epilogue. One hour before the actual performance, in a programme called "Pre-concert Talk",  a talk for about half an hour on the day's subject of performance is delivered by a well known musicologist or critic highlighting the major points and subtlety in the performance to come up. Key points are explained by playing recording devices to emphasise the beauty of  the piece. This is actually like a preparatory training for the audience; learning for the naive and refresher for the trained. Then there is the actual performance for 2 to 3 hours. After the actual performance there is an interaction session between the guests and the artistes titled "Ask the Artiste", where question by the public are answered by the conductor and/or lead artistes. On one side of the auditorium beautiful photographs (by beautiful I mean photographs taken with excellent light effects) of each and every artiste in the troupe is displayed giving the roles assigned and instruments played by them that day. Along with the tickets for the show every patron is given a book in which details of the programme, bio-data of the conductor and lead players and composer is given. A synopsis of the pieces to be played that day is also included to prepare the listener to understand what he is actually listening.

Discipline in conducting the Opera stretches further than this.  Late comers are not allowed to enter the hall and rob the early comers of the uninterrupted pleasure of enjoying the music performance. They are not totally denied either; they can watch and listen to the music in the Grand Lobby Monitor and enter the hall during intermission, if there is one. Mobile phones are prohibited. If the patron is expecting an emergency message, messages are delivered to their seats silently if exact seat location is left with the Head Usher station. An emergency phone number to contact an outsider for help if the guest has any problem is also available, since mobiles are prohibited. Doctors are available at the hall to attend to medical emergencies. We all know that healthy patrons also sometimes develop an urge to cough during the concert. Not here. You are not permitted to cough. Cough drops made available with Ushers, courtesy of Ricola and Bartell drugs. No need to say that silk sarees, jewellery or cricket scores can not be discussed during the concert.

We attended the Pre-concert talk at 6.30 PM and left the hall for evening coffee at 7 PM. When we returned to our seats at 7.15 PM, the artistes had already taken their seats and ready with the instruments. There were nearly 80 artistes on various instruments - Violin, Viola, Guitars, Drums, Brass and flutes. Our host had obtained excellent seats for us to enable us to have a full view of the entire stage. We were also warned not to clap when the conductor had his back to us. No back-clapping.  The evening's programme consisted of three parts - Dupree's Paradise from The Perfect Stranger by Frank Zappa and  L'arbre des songes (The Tree of dreams) of  Henri Dutilleux played by a French violinist Renaud Capucon, followed by Ludwig Van Beethoven's Symphony No.3 Eroica in E-flat major. Sharply at 7.30 PM all murmur and coughing stooped. The composer appeared and for the next one hour the first two items were played. All seats in the auditorium were taken, but it appeared none breathed. There were no clapping even when the finest of movements were played. Every guest was a stone or bronze statue. Compare with our Ramanavami concerts. The conductors and artistes were given thunderous applause at the end of each piece.

After the intermission it was "Eroica". It is said that the piece was composed by Beethoven while fighting his increasing deafness. The composer is said to have kept Napoleon Bonaparte as the motivation and an embodiment of a new and hopeful political order for this piece of composition. Later on he changed its title as he was not happy with the changes that took place in the political arena. Not being well versed in Western music I am unable to say anything more except that it was an unforgettable experience. The artistes and the conductor Ludovic Morlot received three rounds of standing ovation from the 2500 guests of the day.

We had a flight to catch within six hours of the conclusion of the main programme. We were unable to sit through the "Ask the artiste" programme. I have no regrets as I would not have followed much, given my total ignorance about Western music. Nevertheless, proof of pudding is in eating and not knowing how it is prepared. I should say that to camouflage my ignorance of the opera music.

The Opera music had cast a spell on us and the music was playing again and again in our minds on the long flight from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It was just not Bheeshma alone...

Bhagavan Sri Krishna refers to, among other things, "Karma Yoga" in Srimad Bhagavadgeetha. We call  many achievers as "Karma yogis". But many Karma yogis are never known outside their homes. This is the life story of one such Karma yogi.

Mysore was the capital of Old Mysore State before independence, and Wodeyars were ruling the state. Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV was the King who ruled between 1904 to 1940. He was known as a Philosopher King and Mahatma Gandhi called him "Rajarshi". After Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, his nephew Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar became the king and ruled from 1940 till the state merged with the Indian Republic. Jayachamaraja Wodeyar was also a popular ruler and an acknowledged philosopher. He was a respected figure in music circles both in India and abroad. He has many music compositions to his credit and was the first President of Philharmonic Concert Society, London. After Independence, he was the first Governor of Mysore State and then Tamilnadu till 1966. 

There was a Sanskrit-Kannada Pundit in the undivided Mysore District, a few miles away from Mysore City. This pundit was a highly respected astrologer as well and was consulted by these Maharajahs in times of need. Though the Pundit commanded respect from one and all including such illustrious Maharajahs, he kept away from the Capital and continued to lead a simple life in his small town. His family consisted of his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grand children. In course of time both the Pundit and his wife became very old. My father once told me that his maternal uncle and himself had been to the Pundit's house for some astrological consultations. Even at the age of 90 years he was active and had a very sharp memory. His wife was 85 years old, but she still cooked the daytime food for the entire family. Their son had also retired from Government service as a Teacher. Daughter-in-law will be in charge of the kitchen for the evening session. The pundit and his wife took only fruits and milk in the evenings. It was a well knit family and they lived happily.

The Pundit's daily routine would start at 5 AM. After his daily bath he would perform his pooja for about an hour and spend time with his students, teaching Sanskrit and Astrology, for two to three hours. He would meet the visitors till noon. After lunch he would relax for some time and again meet visitors till evening. Later hours were reserved for his own studies, even at the advanced age. After a cup of milk and some fruits he would retire to bed around 9 PM. Routine for his wife would start half an hour before the Pundit got up and end half an hour after he retired for the day. Her "Tulasi Pooja" would be done before the Pundit's regular Pooja. The couple lived in perfect harmony and the people of the surrounding areas would come to seek their blessings, especially for the new born and newly weds.

The couple got up as usual one morning and went about their daily routine. After the students left at about 9 AM, the wife came to pundit and drew his attention.

"This is the season for Sampige flowers", she said. (Sampige flowers are also known as  as Champaka or Shenbagam or Ylang Ylang flowers)

"Yes, I know that. What about it?", Pundit asked.

"Can you get me some Sampige flowers today?" 

"You never asked for Sampige flowers all these days. You were saying that you get headache due to its strong smell. Even though I liked those flowers you never used them. Why do you want them today?"

"I felt I need those flowers today. Hence I am asking"

"I will go to the market now and get them before lunch"

The Pundit went out and brought the flowers. Lunch was promptly served at 12 Noon. While having lunch the Pundit observed that the wife did not have the flowers on her. "What happened to the flowers? You are not wearing them." he asked. "It is kept for a specific purpose. Not for my use", she said. The Pundit left it at that.

After Pundit's lunch, the wife had her lunch and went for her daily nap. She returned at about 4 PM. The Pundit was lying on his cot reading some book. She asked him to get up and sit in his usual chair. Though surprised, he obliged without murmur. The wife brought her plate of Arisina-Kunkuma  (holy Turmeric and Sindhoor powder plate), paid her respects to him by performing "Paada Pooja". She spread all the Sampige (Champaka) flowers on his feet. She asked the husband to bless her and  bowed to him by placing her head on his feet.

Since she did not get up even after two minutes, the Pundit asked her to get up. She did not respond. He tried to lift her. She was gone. Gone for ever.

Bheeshma Pitaamaha of Mahabharata had a boon of Icchamarana (One who can die when he wants). The Pundit's wife was no less "Karma yogi". She was also a Icchamarani and lived and died the way she wanted. And when she wanted. There are many others like her. Only we do not know them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I ate all your bananas....

I was remembering the Mathematics teacher who taught the unforgettable lesson "Zero multiplied by anything is Zero". He was popularly known by his initials SR. He was a strict disciplinarian and a versatile man with many talents. He was a very capable man and could handle tough situations with ease.

Indian Cricket depends on Rahul Dravid for doing all the tough work. He will be called upon to do all the donkey work and to play in South Africa and England on the bouncy pitches and ignored for other series. This BCCI appears to have learnt this from Government of India. Government of India depends on Teachers for all the jobs meant for workhorses. Whether it is Census or Election or Survey, teachers are deputed. There was a Panchayat Election when I was studying in 10th standard, in 1967 or 1968. As usual, teachers were to be drafted to act as Presiding Officers and Polling Officers. A preliminary meeting was called by the Tahasildar who was the Returning Officer for the elections in the taluk. SR was living on the same street as we did and being known to each other my father and SR were sitting side by side in the meeting. When it came to allotment of the Officers for the Kodihalli booth, the Tahasildar asked SR to be the Presiding Officer and my father was one among the three Polling Officers allotted to that booth.

Kodihalli is a relatively big place and had maximum voters for a booth. The village had a history of group rivalries and was among the sensitive booths in the Taluk. Each Polling Booth is run by by a Presiding officer with three assistants called Polling Officers; first one to verify the voter's identity and call out his name loudly to enable the agents of the contesting candidates to mark off in their copies of lists to avoid double/duplicate voting, the second to hand over the ballot paper and obtain signature of the voter as acknowledgement (in those days it was mostly Thumb Impression) and the third to place the indelible ink mark on the left index finger (if the voter does not have the left index finger, then the right index finger; if that is also not available then some other available finger etc. as defined by the rule book!). The Presiding Officer sits with a Polling Box, sealed at the start of polling process in the presence of representatives of contesting candidates,  placed in front of him and watches the entire process till the voter deposits the ballot paper in the Ballot box. He has the responsibility of intervening in case of disputes and ensure free and fair election in the booth. He is also bestowed with special powers to take care of emergent circumstances. Each booth is also provided with a Police Constable and a Home Guard to assist formation of ques and maintenance of orderly polling in the booth. All the polling staff are required to collect the polling material and camp at the booth overnight. Their duty is over only when the entire polling material along with sealed Vote Boxes are handed over to the Returning officer's representative. Any violation attracts severe penalty. With the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines, issue of Ballot Paper is dispensed with but the other procedure remains the same.

I was well versed in the poll procedure as a student since I used to read the Instruction Manual my father used to bring with him. The Presiding Officer has the powers to appoint a boy to serve water to the voters and polling staff and help in the other errands. The boy is also paid a small honorarium for this job. Almost in every election some teacher or the other used to take me along with them to do this job. This was mainly because I was able to count and seal unused ballot papers, Challenge and Tender votes and fill in other summary documents of the polls in neat handwriting. Challenge and Tender votes arise when a voter finds that his vote is already cast when he comes to the booth, Challenges the vote already cast and exercises his right by paying the prescribed nominal fee or when the identity of the voter is challenged by rival agents of candidates.

Kodihalli is ten miles from Kanakapura. SR and my father were strict vegetarians and there were no hotels in Kodihalli in those days. Polling staff are not permitted to accept any hospitality from the local people due to political affiliations, but this rule is generally broken by consensus between the Polling staff and agents of candidates. My father ordered me take his lunch from our home around noon to Kodihalli which was a half an hour ride by bus from Kanakapura. He also suggested that I should ask SR so that his lunch bag from his home could be carried along with my father's lunch bag. SR gladly agreed as it solved a major problem for him as well. In the bargain I lost the chance to work as a "Helper" in that election.

I collected both lunch bags and went to Kodihalli around noon on the next day. When I arrived at the Polling Booth, in a school building,  the atmosphere was a bit tense. There were heated exchanges between rival groups outside the booth. PC and Home Guard were trying their best to control the situation. I went inside the booth and kept the lunch bags in an adjoining room and sat on a stool watching the goings on. Tempers rose and within a few minutes two groups led by the rival candidates barged into the polling room. They shouted at the Presiding Officer and complained that the other group was bringing bogus voters. Polling staff and myself were afraid that the situation may go out of control. SR was trying to pacify both the groups and convince them that voters were screened strictly and irrespective of what was happening outside, polling in the booth was absolutely fair and in order. One person in the group rushed towards the polling officer holding the ballot papers.

This was the moment when strong action was required. SR who was cool all along suddenly raised his voice. Like he used to speak at the school assembly with over 300 students. "All of you will  get out of the hall immediately. Otherwise I will cancel the polls and request the Returning Officer to order for a re-poll. The entire process of elections will get postponed. If any one touches the polling material or polling staff I will order their arrest for violation of poll code". His booming voice and body language had the desired effect. No candidate wanted delay in the polling process. The booth was cleared of the intruders and polling resumed. The atmosphere continued a bit tense but nothing untoward happened thereafter.

After sometime SR and my father had their lunch in the adjoining room; SR first followed by my father. When I was about to collect the empty boxes and bags SR came to me and asked "Where did you get those bananas? They were very good. Did my wife give it or you purchased in the shop?". I told him that they were Nanjanagud Rasa Baale, a variety grown extensively near Mysore and Nanjanagud area and actually grown in our backyard. They are small in size but very tasty.  "Are keshav, you should have told me. I was tense and the fruits were very sweet. I ate all your bananas and left only two for your father!".  I told him not to worry about it as we had many more at home. My father could compensate quite well in the evening. The three of us had a hearty laugh.

Those ten bananas broke the wall of fear between SR and myself. I was able to talk to him and interact freely thereafter. The only regret is that Nanjanagud Rasa Baale along with Butti Chiguru betel leaves and Mysore's famous Eranagere brinjal are no longer available. These specie are now lost and we are left only with Hybrid variety.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zero multiplied by anything is ZERO

I had mentioned about a Science Teacher who taught me an important lesson in English, in "You just killed John Milton."  Now I remember a Mathematics Teacher who taught me a secret of life. Through a formula of Mathematics.

I was in Standard IX and sitting in an Algebra class. The teacher was a short man but very strict as most teachers in that era were. Students were afraid of him even though he did not say or do anything to fear him. He was explaining solving a mathematical problem and writing on the blackboard. All the students were engrossed in the solution of the sum. He went step by step and came to the penultimate step. He said "Since a is zero, a multiplied by b is also zero,  since zero multiplied by anything is zero". A fundamental doubt crept up in my mind. How can it be? Zero multiplied by 10 is also zero. Zero multiplied by 100 is also zero. Zero multiplied by 1000 is also zero. Is it correct? Is it fair? Does the other number has no significance?

If I ask a question he may not like it. He may even say "Don't you know even this basic thing? How did you come to class IX?", like many other teachers. I had not raised this questions when the same issue was dealt in earlier classes. He may remind me of that and may admonish me for raising the question rather belatedly. He may get angry and throw the duster at me, as he did on students sleeping in his class. I somehow mustered courage, got up and asked him: "How is it possible? How is any number multiplied with zero is zero, Even when the other number is big or small?".

He stopped his lecture, looked at me for a moment. Like Bumble the Beadle looked at Oliver Twist when Oliver Twist asked for some more of the gruel. ( Oliver Twist, the famous novel by Charles Dickens was prescribed as a Non-detailed text for Standard IX and was being taught in parallel English classes). I froze where I stood.

He called me to where he was standing. I complied hesitantly. "Go out and bring a handful of Small stones.", he ordered. I went out immediately and collected a handful of small stones, each of the size of a groundnut. Why does he want small stones when he has a big duster with him?, I wondered. Sheepishly I came back to the class with a handful of the stones. "Put them on the table ", he commanded.  The classroom had a platform on which a table and chair were kept for the teachers. I put the pebbles on the table. "Turn around and face your friends" he said. I complied dutifully.

He divided the pebbles into heaps of four. Six heaps making a total of twenty four. Remaining pebbles were kept aside. Now I was confident that he would not throw the pebbles at me. Some cheer returned to my face. Oh, now I am a part of some experiment, I told myself. He asked me to open my right palm and and stretch it. "Look, here I have pebbles of four each in a group. I put them in your hand. Now count them.", he said and put the first lot of four in my hand.

"Four multiplied by one. How much?".  "Four" was the answer. All the students were watching us.
"Four multiplied by two. How much?"   "Eight"
"Four multiplied by Three..........."  "Twelve".
"Four multiplied by six".    "Twenty four".

He took away all the pebbles. I was standing with outstretched right palm. "Now I will give you stones in lots of zero. Count", he said.

"Zero multiplied by one. How much?"   "Zero".
"Zero multiplied by two"             "Zero"
"Zero multiplied by three"    "Zero"
"Zero into ten"        "Zero"

"Zero multiplied by anything!"   The entire class shouted    "ZERO".

I was asked to get back to my seat. I went back like a hero and sat in my place.

He was now addressing the entire class. "Remember,  all of you. Do not hesitate to ask a question if you do not understand anything. Anything, however silly the question may appear. Do not worry about what others think. You are learning for yourself. Others are not going to help you when you go out in the world and are on your own. Now let us get back to Algebra!". He had read my mind perfectly!

When I was in college I met him once and reminded him about the incident. "Zero multiplied by anything is Zero. That I will never forget, Sir", I said.  "There is more to the formula than what you learnt that day. It is true of life as well. Returns in life are proportionate to the investment you make. If you make zero investment, however much you slog, returns are always  Zero. If you invest at least interest you will reap manifold returns, in proportion to your hard work. I am not referring to Principle and Interest of Mathematics. It is INTEREST in what you do", he said and winked in a rare moment of humour and affection. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Whale of a time in the Pacific

After facing the fury of hurricane IRENE on the Atlantic coast, we had moved to the Pacific coast. The flights across the entire breadth of the country had been fantastic and educative as well. But details of that will have to wait for another day.

We were in Canada for the third time in a month. After Ottawa and Montreal, it was Vancouver this time.  At the end of the trip to Vancouver we have formed a firm impression that Vancouver is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities we have seen. Vancouver is bestowed with lots of water, sea and  rivers, lakes, many islands, forests and hills as well. Lots of greenery, fine parks and well maintained coastal area with many bridges across water bodies enhance the beauty of the city. We just loved our stay in Vancouver.

One of the important attractions in Vancouver is Whale watching. Web sites advertising this describe it as an adventure of a life time. Our host was keen that we should go whale watching. We had a bad experience in Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar, when we were taken on a marine life watching in glass bottom boats. The hype created was very high but in the end that glass bottomed boat was a fraud and we were left not high and dry, but low and wet. From Port Blair we were taken in medium sized boats carrying about 50 people and from there in the middle of sea waters were asked to move out to smaller boats accommodating about 10 to 12 persons, with small glass bottoms. It was difficult to get down in to these boats and one could sit in them with great difficulty. The marine life showed lasted for two to three minutes and then we were left in an island  with next to nothing. We were not even permitted to waive the trip of getting in to those small boats.  We were  firmly and rudely told that the vessel has to go back to bring other people and as such we had to get in to those glass bottom boats! In this background, we were rather worried. But our inquiries revealed that we would not be required to change boats in the middle of the ocean. Once we saw the boats we were assured that it would be a enjoyable trip.

The boats for whale watch start from a fishing village called Steveston in the Richmond area, about 35 to 40 minutes drive from downtown Vancouver. The Whale watching companies arrange for a pick up from hotels and other designated points in the city. On the morning of the trip we were informed over phone that the pick up coach was full and could not accommodate us. But we were advised to go over to their place in a taxi and the company would pay the taxi fare. It turned out to be a good offer as our group went in the comfort of a taxi without having to wait for the others at pick up points. We enjoyed the drive to Steveston form our hotel in downtown Burrad Street, which is the central street of downtown Vancouver. There were no discussions or bargaining after reaching the company's place and the company's representative paid off the cab driver.

The whale watching visitors have a choice of two types of vessels. The first is a open vessel in which the passengers are seated in rows. Sea water will be splashing on the watchers and hence the company provides waterproof gear to protect them from water splashing. They would be wet when they reach back the shores and generally require to shower and change clothes. The second type of vessels are covered with glass top  in which there is no need for waterproof gear as there is no water splashing. The view offered is the same in both the boats. There is a higher charge for going in glass covered boats due to added comfort. Fun loving youngsters prefer the open boats whereas the elderly would prefer covered boats. The vessels used are first class vessels meeting strict safety standards. The entire trip takes four to five hours and hence the boats are also provided with washroom facilities. Our host had arranged for the trip in glass covered vessel and there was no need for us to use the water proof gear. Expert guides were available on the boats to explain the geographic details of the area, marine life and related issues of interest.

It was drizzling when we started from the hotel in the morning.  As we moved through the fisherman street to board the vessel it started clearing up. We had to perforce go through the fisherman street where we could see, smell and view sale of several varieties of fish, prawn, crab and other marine items.   Business was brisk and fast.  The vessels we were led to were expedition type Zodiacs specifically designed for marine mammals watching and move on the surface of waves and without ploughing or pounding through the sea waters as other ships do. This provides for increased passenger comfort and reducing sea sickness. As the vessel left the shores, sun came out and the weather changed. Once deep in to the sea, Sun started blazing and the overcoats and sweaters had to be removed. The vessel moved from the point of river Frazer joining the Pacific Ocean and sailed through between many islands - Mayne island, Pendar island and Saturna island being the big ones. After entering the Strait of Georgia, the vessel entered the USA waters and moved in the deep pacific. It was interesting to know that one of these islands has a big hotel for tourists and the only way to reach the hotel is through boats. One other island was used as a Jail several decades ago.

The captain piloted the vessel in the Ocean waters for over four hours. We could see Seals, bald headed Eagles and Sea Lions. In one island we could see many deer grazing and moving freely.  We were told that they are able to swim in the shallow waters and move from one island to another island. In a big rock island in the middle of the ocean we could see many big Sea Lions majestically taking sun baths. The Captain kept continuous contact with other vessels in the area by wireless to spot Whales. This reminded me of the efforts to locate Tigers and Lions in the safaris. After four hours he announced that there was no luck in spotting the Whales and he was heading to the shores.We returned to the port at about 4 PM.

The company provides pictures of Whales to children and they are encouraged to paint them and bring with them to collect a gift when they come for whale watching. Beautiful pictures painted by the children were displayed on the walls. There was also a pin up board displaying the messages of children sent to the company giving feedback after trips on the ocean. There were 13 such messages displayed there and all of them mentioned about sighting of Seals, Eagles and Sea Lions. Strangely none of the messages mentioned about sighting of Whales!

Our host was disappointed about our not being able to see Whales. But life does not always move along expected lines. We have to take unlucky misses just as we enjoy lucky unexpected hits. The company claims 90% success rates in its website. The charges for the trip are quite heavy and what happens if Whales are not sighted? No problems. The company's policy is simple - "If you do not see a Whale you can come again for free until you do - for life, no expiry". There was a gentleman from Florida on the trip with us and complained that he has come from far and was disappointed. What about us who went half way across the globe from Bangalore? In fact, it is exactly half way across the globe, the time difference between Bangalore and Vancouver being exactly 12 1/2 hours. We believe in rebirth, but the offer to return for Whale watch is valid for this life only. I asked the company's official about a chance for revisit in the next birth. She was startled but replied firmly that the offer was for life with no expiry date. Probably she did not understand the question. Or she was confused about reference to rebirth - whether my rebirth or hers or that of the Whales!

We could not blame the Whales. We had gone without an appointment. I have now sent an e-mail to and seeking an appointment to see them next year. because it is probably most used world over. because it is the biggest service provider in Canada. I am waiting for a reply and checking my Inbox twice a day.........

Whales or no Whales. We enjoyed our five hours on the Pacific Ocean. The beautiful sea waters which was black,blue and green at different times and different angles. The merriment of the children when the vessel hit the roughs and waves. The excitement of the elderly when they sighted some animal on the sea or islands. The scorching sun or the cool shades when he went behind the clouds occasionally.  The beautiful jelly fish and marine plants. The wonderful islands, small and big. Those herds of deer looking at us majestically from those islands........

We had a whale of a time on the Pacific, of course, without Whale watching.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Life is worth a lot more

After watching US Open Tennis Championship matches on 1st September, we proceeded to Montreal, Canada by road. The drive from outskirts of New York to Montreal took about 8 hours with usual lunch and snack break every two hours.

Among the many tourist spots worth visiting in Montreal is the Mount Royal Park and the Beaver lake atop the hill. The city of Montreal gets its name from the Mount Royal, which is actually a hill but called as Mount Royal probably because there are no mountains around. There is a small lake atop the hill called Beaver Lake.  I may dwell on Montreal, its tourist spots and history separately for there are many. However, one unfortunate news received today reminds me of an incident that happened on the rest area near Beaver Lake on Mount Royal on the afternoon of 3rd September.

After reaching Beaver lake we were looking for a place to sit and relax as we were tired with the rounds of sight seeing since morning. In the rest area near the lake, around a table with four chairs, one person was sitting alone. As all other chairs nearby were occupied I asked him whether we could sit there. He welcomed me to sit and started talking about the fine weather that day. I concurred with him and he suddenly said " Look, it is such a fine day and there are many fine things to see like Beaver Lake. I do not know why young and precious lives are lost for silly reasons".  I did not understand the reason for such a comment all of a sudden. He saw the expression on my face and himself voluntarily explained the reasons for his statement.

He was a Doctor by profession, an Orthopaedic Surgeon. He said that the last three days were very hectic and painful for him. Being an Orthopaedic surgeon pain and suffering was not new to him. Everyday he would get some case for treatment of fracture or attending to accident victims.  Previous day he had received an emergency call  to treat a young girl involved in an accident case. The girl was going on her bicycle when a speeding car hit her. She was brought with broken ribs and fractured leg and an emergency operation was made. She was still critical in the morning. "She may pull through and come out alive  but will have to carry the aftereffects of the tragic accident for the rest of her life. I was myself upset and came out here to spend some time with nature to forget the same", he said.

He mentioned about the number of cases that come to the Hospital for silly reasons. Like two close friends who stabbed each other quarreling over some girl. Like two brothers who beat each other with baseball bats over some silly issue. "I am fed up with such cases. People do not realise the importance of life. There is nothing more valuable in this world than life itself.  I have decided to quit this profession and go back to Portugal, my native land and live atop some hill away from all this suffering. I am waiting for my little girl playing there to reach schooling age. After that it is a quiet life for me", he said. I told him that the society can not lose the services of a skilled surgeon like him. "Oh, you have a point there, but I do not want it as a regular job. I may be reachable over phone and could attend some emergencies", he said. May be next morning he may decide to continue his service to the society.

Former Indian cricket captain and Member of Parliament Mohamed Azharuddin's son Ayazuddin expired today. He was involved in a motorcycle accident in Hyderabad on  Sunday early morning.

Mohamed Ayazudddin was only 19 years old. He was a budding cricketer and those who saw him play for Under-19 team say he had the gift of timing and grace his father had. His father and mother were divorced. Father had got him a new motorcycle for Rs. 21 lacs only weeks earlier, as a Ramzan gift. Ayazuddin was returning from Hyderabad airport with his cousin Ajmal-ur-Rehman (son of Mohd. Azharuddin's sister) when the accident happened. Ajmal  died on arrival in hospital. Ayazuddin's father was in London and mother was in Dubai. Both rushed to Hyderabad. Ayazuddin battled for life for five days and despite best medical care succumbed to the injuries.

Over speeding was said to be the reason for the accident. It is not known whether they were wearing helmets. Two precious lives are lost.

Could it have been avoided?

I remember the words of the Doctor I met at Beaver lake in Montreal. Life is worth a lot more than anything else. Those who suffer irreparable losses know this better, but many times it is too late to learn the lessons.

A night at US Open Tennis Championships

We were scheduled to visit Flushing Meadows at New York on the night of 1st September 2011. When the tickets were booked four months ago, we had no idea as to which matches we were privileged to watch. In fact on Sunday, 28th august, Hurricane Irene visited the east coast and there was no guarantee that we would be watching some match there. Thanks to the hard work of the Officials and volunteers, the tournament started on schedule and we could see the matches. And to our good luck we could see the two top most players, World No. 1 and Seed Nos. 1, Novak Jokovic and Caroline Wozniacki ! 

Everyone knows that US Open Tennis Championships is one of the majors and along with the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, forms the Grand Slam events. US open is the fourth and final tournament of the year and is played a week before and after the Labour Day weekend. Labour Day is always observed on the First Monday of September, irrespective of the date and is a Federal Holiday to celebrate the economic and social contribution of the workers. This makes for three continuous holidays and such week ends are known as long week ends. The championships are played in three categories - Men's and Women's singles, Men's and Women's doubles and Mixed doubles. There are also three further categories - Seniors, Juniors and Wheel Chair players.

The four major tournaments are played over three different surfaces - French open on Clay, Wimbledon on Grass, Australian and US Open on Hard Courts. US Open is played on Acrylic hard courts and the playing area is Blue in colour with the other area in the court in green colour. This is said to provide better view to the spectators and viewers of TV coverage.  All the courts are lighted but uncovered. Therefore rain interruptions are possible, but the excellent facilities available for mopping and drying of the courts after rain stops helps in quick resumption of matches. Covering the main stadium  is not being considered by the management due to prohibitive cost. The US TA has a policy of compensating ticket holders for cancellation of sessions due to rains. The ticket holders can obtain tickets for further matches, if available, or can obtain tickets for the same sessions next year !

US Open Tennis championships was not always played in New York. It originally started in 1881 in New Port Casino, New Port, Rhode Island. In 1915 it moved to Forest Hills, New York and for three years  (1921-23) it was played in Philadelphia. New York again became the venue since 1924 and was played at Forest Hills till 1977.  The games moved to Flushing Meadows in Corona Park, Queens, New York in 1978. The playing surface also changed from time to time. It was played on outdoor grass courts from 1881 to 1974, Outdoor clay courts in 1975 to 1977 and Acrylic hard courts since 1978.

The place in Flushing Meadows was called US TA National Tennis Centre since 1978. It was renamed as US TA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre since 2006 in honour of Mrs. Billie Jean King who won an astounding 39 major titles ( 12 singles, 16 doubles and 11 mixed doubles) in her illustrious career. She is well known for her "Battle of sexes" match of 1973 in which she defeated Bobby Riggs in 1973. Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon (1939) and US Open (1939 to 1941) Champion had challenged any woman player to beat him in a show match. Billie Jean King accepted the challenge, played the match and defeated him and pocketed the prize money of USD 100,000 !

The present arena at Flushing Meadows comprises of 20 courts; courts 1 to 17, The Grand Stand, Louis Armstrong Stadium and Arthur Ashe Stadium. Courts 1 to 17 are small courts. Grand Stand can seat 6,000 people. Louis Armstrong Stadium, named after the famous African-American Jazz musician who lived nearby when the arena was opened in 1968 (he died in 1971), had a capacity of 18,000 till 1997. It was the main stand up to 1997 and it's capacity was reduced to 10,200 after the construction of the main stadium in 1997. The main stadium is named after the famous American Tennis player and US Open champion of the inaugural season of Open era in 1968, Arthur Ashe. This stadium can seat 22,500 people and is now the main stadium. This is the biggest stadium among the four stadia for Tennis Majors with capacity of other main stadia for such events being Wimbledon Centre court (15,000) Roland Garros for French Open (14,840) and Rod Laver Arena for Australian Open (14,820). We were privileged to see World No. 1 players among both Men and Women playing in this stadium.

The system of ticket issue at US Open is also interesting. Tickets are issued for Day sessions and Night  sessions separately. Day sessions begin at 11 AM and go on till 6 PM. Evening sessions start at 7 PM and go past midnight. Some tickets are reserved for the members of the US Lawn Tennis Association. Members of this organisation can take part in local tournaments and get priority tickets for the US Open matches. A person with day ticket or night ticket can see any number of matches during the period and there is no restriction. Senior and Seeded players generally get to play at one of the three major stadia and top players usually are scheduled to play at either Arthur Ashe stadium or Louis Armstrong stadium. Our host being a member of the USLTA had secured tickets for the evening session of 1st September. We were informed that the day session is very hot for comfort as all the stadiums are uncovered. In fact, Rafael Nadal fell down during that week's press Conference due to exhaustion and some other players retired due to dehydration. Even during the Semi final and Final matches there were instances of spectators fainting due to excess heat !

One wonderful thing in the US is the availability of secondary market for tickets of Tennis, Baseball or Football games. A holder of ticket will be able to legally sell the ticket and there are dedicated websites like for such sales. The only restriction is that the tickets can not be sold in the vicinity of the stadium area. Thus, tickets are not wasted if the holder is not able to watch a particular game and another person prepared to pay a premium (or discount in rare events) can buy the ticket and watch the game.

Another  interesting fact is that US Open is the only major tennis tournament where tie-break is enforced even in the final set ie. fifth set in Men's match and 3rd set in Women's match. In the other three major tournaments, tie-break is not enforced in the last set. Three Player challenge calls are permitted in each set of the match as in the case of other majors.

It was nearly three hour drive for us to reach the US TA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York. There was heavy traffic with roads clogged due to cars going in the direction of the venue. Flashers positioned in the roadside showed that delays were expected due to heavy traffic and advised taking public transport to reach quickly. Our host drove us through the New Jersey Turnpike, then along Route 440 and after Outerbridge crossing into Staten island.  I asked whether there is an inner bridge as well and then came to know that Outerbridge is so called because it is named after Engenius H Outerbridge, the first Chairman of New York and New Jersey Port Authority. Then we moved further and reached the Flushing Meadows after passing the LaGuardia airport on the left. Frequent movement of aircraft over the Arthur Ashe stadium can be seen due to the proximity of the LaGuardia airport. Walking through the Parking lot in the middle of tailgating groups itself was an experience. There was two way stream of spectators across the Flushing Meadows Railway station - those exiting the arena after day session and those going into the area for night session.

Once inside the centre, the first outlet we saw in the food court was one by name "DELHI". We got excellent Nans and Chana Masala with Alu Gobi. After a hurried supper at 6.30 PM we saw one match in a side court for a few minutes and enjoyed the outer atmosphere of the Centre. The walking space between the courts/stadia is lined with display of photographs of past champions. We later went into the Arthur Ashe Stadium and took our seats just before No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Arantxa Ruz of Netherlands entered the court. We could see yesteryear's tennis Queen Chris Evert in the commentators' box across us. The match itself was one sided and Wozniaki won 6-2, 6-0.

After this match World No.1 men's player Novak Djokovic  of Serbia and Carlos Berloog of Argentina entered the stadium. We could feel the imposing presence of Djokovic. Chris Evert had made way for John McEnroe in the commentator's box. This match was also one sided and Djocovic won in straight sets 6-0, 6-0 and 6-2. The whole stadium erupted in joy when Carlos won his two games as if he has won the match itself ! we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of revelry and music in between games and matches. Usual quota of french fries and drinks could not be forgotten. Beer lovers did not complain for paying 9 dollars for a mug of beer which would cost one dollar when purchased outside. The atmosphere is to be actually felt to be believed. The matches concluded around 11 PM. Though rain threat was there we were spared of any interruptions and could enjoy our day at Flushing Meadows.

We spent some time in the Gift shop and purchased some souvenirs. It was well past 2 AM when we crossed New York via George Washington Bridge and checked in to our Hotel in New Jersey.

The wonderful experience of the US Open Tennis matches will linger in our minds for a long time.

.................................P Keshava Murthy

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Was he a Failure?

What is success?  What is considered failure? Who is to measure it? How it should be measured?  When do we say someone has done justice to his talent? 

There is an interesting instance of a cricketer. This is all the more interesting in an era when the Pathan Brothers are sold or bought for an aggregate of USD 4 million for IPL.

A player was chosen to represent his country in Test Cricket. Against severe competition. He was already married by that time. His wife came to the stadium to see her husband make his debut for their country. She brought along with her, her knitting sticks and wool. A new sweater for their soon to be born baby. Naturally.

She was eagerly waiting for her husband to come to bat. His chance did come. He walked to the middle of the pitch. He took leg stump guard. She waited with bated breath. The moment he and she had waited for long had indeed arrived. The bowler started running towards the batsman to deliver the ball. Right arm Fast medium.

In the excitement, she dropped the ball of wool in her hand. She bent to pick it up.

That was it. She never saw her husband bat. By the time she picked up the ball of wool, the leather ball was delivered and her husband was out first ball. He was never selected for his country's team again. He bowled only one over and gave away nine runs. No wicket.

This not a imaginary story. It is the true story of Dr. Roy Lindsey Parks who played his only Test Match for Australia against England in 1920-21. Even his wife dropping the wool and missing his one ball innings!

Dr Roy Lindsey Park lived for only 54 years. Born in 1892, he started his career as a Australian football player. He played his football (a game different from the traditional football which is played between two teams of 22 players) and Cricket for Melbourne and Victoria, Australia. In 44 football matches for his University, he scored 111 goals and in 13 games for Victoria he scored 35 goals. He was the leading goal kicker for his team for three concecutive years in1912 to 1914. He became a victim of an allegation of kicking an opponent player and was suspended for four matches. Despite repeated assertions of three other players that he had not kicked the other player, he was suspended for four matches. Pained by the suspension, he gave up playing Australian Foot Ball and took up Cricket. He excelled in Cricket also. He was studying for his Degree in Medicine at that time and on becoming a Doctor he joined the Australian Imperial Force during World War I in 1917. He was sent to England during the war and served with distinction. His service in the armed forces was commended by mention in the London Gazette as well as Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.  After returning from England at the conclusion of World War I in 1919, he resumed playing cricket and was selected to play for Australia in 1920. Being a Doctor, he was called upon to attend a patient on the previous night and did not have sufficient sleep when he came to bat the next day. It is to be remembered that until 1960s or even 1970s, Cricket players were busy with their own careers as professionals or serving as employees and they were not pampered as professional players like today.  His cricket career lasted only one test match. In first Class Cricket, however, he made 2514 runs including 9 centuries with an average of 40 in the days of uncovered pitches.

Park's cricket connections did not end there. He kept in touch with the game and his daughter, Lal Park, married Ian Johnson who was a budding cricketer. After the daughter's marriage to Ian Johnson in 1942, Roy parks guided the cricket career of his son-in-law Ian Johnson who made it to the Australian Test team in 1946 and played for 10 years, till 1956, though his career was interrupted by World War II. During World War II Johnson served in the Royal Australian Air Force as a fighter pilot and flight instructor. He resumed playing cricket after the war and even became the captain of the Australian Cricket Team and led them in 17 tests with 5 wins. (He is more known as the only Captain to lose two Ashes Series, until Ricky Ponting overtook him). In a career spanning 45 matches Ian Johnson took 109 wickets and scored 1000 runs, which was considered as a DOUBLE in those days. He was a part of the Invincible Team of Don Bradman and on the recommendation of Bradman he was honoured with the title MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1957, which was upgraded to OBE (Officer of the order of of the British Empire) in 1977 and then again to CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1982. Something similar to Our Indian Government giving Padmashri, Padma Bushan and Padma Vibushan to the same person in three stages! Lal Park and Ian Johnson were happily married for 56 years! Ian Johnson served his country in many capacities including as a sports commentator and administrator and Social Worker.

Roy Park's Cricket Test record was dismal. He scored 0 in one match. Gave 9 runs in one over. He does not even have an average. Cricket Pundits may call him a total failure. But he led a very distinguished life. He was a patriot. He was a soldier. He was a Doctor. He was useful to his family. And to the society. He guided his son-in-law to greatness and distinction. For me, he was a much bigger success than many who have scored tons of runs for their own personal milestones.

...................P Keshava Murthy