Monday, January 15, 2018

Memories of an ordinary Indian :: 10

Football in the Palace
That was not the only time I went across inside the Jai Vilas Palace. Sometimes when football matches would be played with Maharaja’s Jiwaji Club these would be held in the Palace ground. The ground was close to the gate on what was known as the Private Road. The players would take me along if I happened to be with father. Father remained as sports in-charge for a number of years and he had to accompany the team just in case the Maharaja decided to watch it. Those were the days of the feudal potentates. Their writ did run all over in their respective principalities though they were subservient to the British Crown.

Everyone, except the players and, of course, children, if any, would have to don their respective head gear as soon as they crossed into the Palace premises. According to the convention, none could get into the precincts of the Palace bare-headed. My father would put on his sola hat. Sola hats are not seen these days but they were very common before independence. One would see most of the officials wearing sola hats which, I think, were made in England and yet were priced very reasonably. The idea was surely to give fillip to the British industry.

 There would be very decent arrangements for witnessing the match by the Maharaja, his staff and the college authorities. Good looking chairs would be kept for them. Even the half time refreshments were decent. While officials would be served tea and biscuits the players would get the usual fare of lime and chilled water. Not any and everyone would be allowed anywhere close to the ground. I do not know whether there was some arrangement to prevent access of people to watch the match But obviously there was acheck point presumably the massive Palace gates.

 I would generally be made to sit on a chair in one of the back rows. Sitting so close to the football pitch would give me the strong smell of freshly cropped wet grass. I remember it so well that even now I can recall it, so well registered it is in my olfactory system.

 The college team would always beat the Maharaja’s Club. They were no match for the college boys some of whom used to be too good. I remember the two full backs – one was Kunzru and the other was Pawar. If anyone managed to take the ball past them the college would in all probability concede a goal. I used to like the way Pawar kicked the ball high up in the air and sent it far enough to cover almost three quarters of the ground. He looked a solid man, a no-nonsense type and would seldom allow the ball to get past him. The college had a very good goalkeeper, too, in a boy called Nandu. He was of above average height, lean and very agile and would make many remarkable saves.

Principals HM Bull and others

Talking of college football reminds me of the sight of the principal out on the field in the sun with his sola topee on his head looking for and removing teasel of Indian variety from the field. I was still a toddler and I remember his pale eyes as he would pick me up and try talking to me in, of all the languages, English. He was HM Bull who was so caring of his students that he would himself try to make the football ground teasel-free. He knew boys used to play barefoot and the spikes on the teasel could hurt them. There were no football boots those days and what most of the boys wore was only an anklet. It certainly did not protect them from injuries.

 HM Bull was followed by two other Englishmen as principals – MA English and FG Pearce – but neither ever bothered to go teasel-hunting. Surprisingly the Gwalior College (it wasn’t a post-graduate college till then) had English gentlemen as principals. The reason could either be the British regimes keenness to pursue Macaulay’s policy to the hilt or the Maharaja’s wish to ensure a better standard of education.  I might add that the Indian principals who followed viz. Dr. AR Wadia and DN Bhalla were no less qualified or competent. But it is true none of the ones who followed them ever went after the teasel on the college football ground.

Allies and football in Gwalior

In the early Nineteen Forties before the armistice football in Gwalior became interesting as the Allied Forces stationed in the town would play it with of a lot of passion and vigour. Among the forces were Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and, of course, the British. I recall, the British were known as “Rovers” and the New Zealander called themselves “Wanderers”. They used to participate in the local tournaments and would often come to the College ground to play with the college team during the football season. They used to be quite formidable and even as a child I could see how puny and emaciated the college boys appeared in front of the hulk of these well-fed and well-cared-for big white men. Besides, all the white men would be playing with their boots on where as all the college boys, barring the two full backs, would be barefooted. On many an occasion one or the other college boy would collapse on the ground writhing in pain, perhaps, hit by a white man’s boot.

  It might be of interest to know that those days Football was a summer game in Gwalior and was almost never played in winters. Hockey and Cricket were winter games just as Tennis and Badminton were and were seldom played formally in tournaments in summers. I cannot imagine the reason as these days all the games are played round the year. Perhaps, the governments used to be short of resources.

*Photo from internet

Sunday, January 7, 2018

From My scrapbook :: 5

Size of leaves

Trees sleeping at night
I am back on the theme of trees. They somehow fascinate me and I can just not get enough of them.

Global warming has now become the driver of numerous researches about its effects on the planet’s flora and fauna. While some researchers have found significant relationship with global warming of shrinking skulls of moose that are residents of Michigan’s Isle Royale others are out investigating the effects changes in temperature have on the size of the leaves of various plants.

It has been said that plants have a delicate balance to strike when it comes to the size of their leaves. The leaves have to be large enough to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis but not so big as to use up a lot of water to cool them. New researches have shown that leaf size in most plants is actually determined by the difference between temperature of the leaf and the air temperature around it and the changes that occur between hot days and frosty nights. These results were obtained after analyzing more than seven thousand kinds of plants across the world.

Earlier the understanding in respect of the size of the leaves was more straightforward. It was held that those that were closer to Equator had larger leaves and as one moved towards the Poles the sizes of leaves progressively became smaller. Tropical rain
forests were full of plants with large and lush leaves while in arid areas and towards the Poles plants get by with tinier and tinier foliage. Researchers have, however, shown that in most plants limits to the size of the leaves are more set by the risk of freezing at night than by the risk of overheating during the day. The researchers also add that water has also a role to play. If there is enough water in the soil there would perhaps be no limit to the size of leaves.

 As climate change affects both temperature and water availability, understanding how and why plants will respond to such changes will be critical. The researchers have claimed “their model can help predict which plants, thanks to leaf size, will thrive in the new world” with progressively changing climatic patterns.


Sleeping trees

That plants go off to sleep at night has all along been known. In our childhood we were told by mother never to tear off a leaf or pluck a flower at night as the plants go off to sleep as soon as darkness sets in. This advice was purely anecdotally sourced. Now researchers have proved that what we were told in our childhood is, in fact, true. Obviously, whatever was handed down to us had some kind of wisdom behind them.

Using laser scanners researchers from Austria, Finland and Hungary have attempted to measure “sleep movements” of fully grown trees. By monitoring a series of laser points on the trees they discovered that the trees more than 16 feet high dropped their branches by not around 4 inches at night. The experiment was carried out in two different countries, Finland and Austria in calm conditions with no winds.

 The scanners used infra red light for a fraction of a second on individual points on a tree. Infra red light is reflected by leaves and hence these were used to record their nocturnal movements. A terrestrial scanner was used to precisely map out a set of points on two silver birch trees – one in Austria and the other in Finland.  By making a series of these maps between dusk and dawn and measuring the displacement of each point they were able to trace how the trees moved during the course of the night. The leaves and branches of the trees were shown to droop gradually; the lowest they did so was until around a couple of hours before sunrise. However, with a few daylight hours they would be wide awake, as it were, assuming their daytime stance, as erect as they could be.

 It is being speculated that drooping may be caused by internal pressure in the plant cells which, it is felt, is because of photosynthesis. At night photosynthesis drops and hence production of sugars in the cells also drops, reducing the pressure. At the same time some researchers feel that by drooping their branches and the leaves on them the trees might be allowing their branches to ‘rest’ after using cell pressure during the day to angle their leaves to catch sunlight. Some others feel that the drooping of the branches and leaves could be a way to conserve energy.

Quite clearly, more researches are called for. Hopefully, these investigations will reveal the nocturnal secrets of trees which, presently, are unknown to most of us

*Photo from internet

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Bhopal Notes :: 59 :: Indian style development is enemy of greenery

The local Smart City establishment seems to be seriously at work. Passing by, I happened to see that in south TT Nagar around half a century old low-rise residential government houses meant for the lower-level employees of the state government are being demolished. It is a very unpleasant sight.

One can quite imagine, with the demolitions numerous worlds have been destroyed and many of the inmates who spent a lifetime in these buildings were forcibly removed. They surely would have gone kicking screaming. After all, for years and perhaps decades these constituted their worlds. Here they married, had children, brought them up and launched them in the wide world to fend for themselves. They had developed their roots here that had gone deep during the long decades they spent here and uprooting them from their moorings would seem to be so cruel. But then, as Tennyson had said “Old order changeth, yielding place to new”, howsoever painful, a change has to come about replacing the old “order. And this change is mostly for that much bandied word “vikas” (development), which surely would not be of those who were removed from their hearths and homes.

It is a depressing sight. But in the depressing environment something stands out and captures your attention. Numerous trees – full grown and healthy – are standing next to the demolished homes. They seem to be there forlorn and in splendid isolation as they are bereft of their human company. These were not the trees that were planted by the civic bodies; these were planted, nurtured and cared for by the inmates who peopled the neighbouring now-demolished houses. Both of them had developed a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit and mutual dependence. That relationship has suddenly snapped.

Perhaps, these have been left standing because of the backlash of the earlier effort of the administration to create a smart city at Shivaji Nagar after destroying hundreds and thousands of trees. That iconic image of Dr. Balwapuri of Red Cross Hospital in close embrace with fat trunk of a tree promptly comes to mind. The proposal to build the smart city there was given up mainly due to protests of the stakeholders of the entire neighbourhood. Only time will tell whether the trees of the South TT Nagar are going to be as lucky as those that escaped the axe in Shivaji Nagar. One has a hunch that they are going to meet the same fate as meted out to those which were felled to bring up Gammon India’s “Drishti” complex, charitably called “Central Business District”. Perhaps, the axes and bulldozers are waiting for the necessary clearance.

I say this because the city administrators are very ”axe-happy”. Despite the repeated reports of the city being rapidly divested of its greenery a big swathe of land along the Lower Lake has been cleared by felling a pretty dense assemblage of trees. This seems to have been done under the project of conversion of Minto Hall complex into a starred hotel and convention centre. The trees have been sacrificed for widening the road that runs along the Lower Lake and, perhaps, will provide access to the proposed convention centre. With two accesses for the Minto Hall complex already available the need for widening the road seems incomprehensible.

In any project the trees are the first casualties. Even the area next to the approach of the bungalow of the Mayor near Karbala quite a few trees have been felled for reasons that are still unknown. The place was green and cool with a good, dense undergrowth. But no, the axes wee wielded and the place looks so bare now. One wonders at the casualness of the officialdom and its penchant for taking such decisions that are harmful for the people.

Again, a proposal that was presumed to be dead is being revived. The proposal for construction of a guest house and few residences for MLAs was killed earlier about three years ago as it involved in felling of thousands of trees in or near the MLAs rest house complex. The protests put a stop to the project but before that a thousand trees had already been felled. The same proposal is being revived and the Speaker is reportedly pursuing the matter. On the last occasion some people had pointed out that there was hardly any need for new residences for MLAs as on bifurcation of the state a substantial number of them have now gone away to Chhattisgarh. But none is probably prepared to pay heed to any counter comment for the reason MLAs are the government and in the pre-election year the administration will also want to keep them happy.

Hence, with one project or another trees in the town are being sacrificed. None seems to think that trees are supportive of life and wellbeing, more so in these days of heavy air pollution and scarcity of water. Surprisingly the civic bodies that are entrusted with the duty of creating clean and healthy spaces for people are the worst defaulters. They seem to have sworn to divest the city of all its greenery leaving the citizens to contend with the rise in air pollution that fosters diseases and death as also unconscionable rise in temperature making the once-salubrious city unlivable.

They apparently are ignorant of the various researches that have shown how valuable a city’s greenery is. A new research, results of which have been published in the journal Ecological Modelling, indicates how much money trees can save for a city. After studying 10 megacities around the world and taking into account air pollution, storm water, building energy, and carbon emissions, the researchers found that trees have an economic benefit of about $505 million every year. Researchers from State University of New York College of Environmental Science & Forestry and Parthenope University of Naples found that trees are worth $1.2 million per square kilometer or $35 per capita.

But in India none probably cares – more so in the states and their municipalities. In the case of Bhopal, the local civic body and also the local government have been unmindful of the impacts of their actions to add more cement and concrete structures in the city. They have scarcely reacted on the repeated reports of tumbling greenery of the city. Besides, they have been singularly unsuccessful in taking care of what was received by them as inheritance in the shape of natural and man-made assets from their feudal predecessors. In fact, they have tried to destroy most of it, chasing a mirage, as it were, of development and progress.

*photo from internet

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Memories of an ordinary Indian :: 9


Jai Vilas Palace (Photo from internet)
The Palace was something which we would notice immediately on getting on to the terrace. Its four white towers used to be illuminated. On top of one of them there would be red light on at night. This was the indication to the townsfolk that the Maharaja was in town. When he would be out of town the red light would be switched off. Sometime later Maharani added two bright lights at a level lower than the red one – perhaps on top of the Usha Kiran Palace where the “royal” family used to reside. People would know that she was in town when they would be on

Jai Vilas used to be a very closely guarded Palace. None could walk into it. However, long years ago when I was very small I remember walking right through it one evening with my mother and one of her acquaintances who perhaps was Mrs RK Hukku, the Head Mistress of the neighbouring Miss Hill’s School.  The city was in festive mood with buntings all along the roads. Perhaps, the occasion was the wedding of the Maharaja. Entering through the Private Road gate we walked alongside the Palace with gardens on two sides and then exited through the gate (known as Nadi Darwaza) that was almost beneath the parapets of the Fort. The entire Palace complex was illuminated and decorated like a fairyland. As we stood around to perhaps catch our breath and to give some rest to our tired feet the parapets exploded in fiery colours. The evening fireworks had commenced and the Fort was probably chosen as the venue only to enable the entire town to witness the celebrations. It was indeed an unforgettable scene.

To my infant eyes the Palace looked beautiful with its four tall square-ish towers and the entire double-storied structure painted white and bathed in bright luminous light. Several recessed windows
The recessed windows of Jai Vilas Palace
had very little ostentation. It was a huge complex which, in fact, was not being used as the royal residence. (I happened to see it from inside years later after it had been converted into a museum). The royal family had a smaller palace adjacent to it but Jai Vilas Palace was where all the state functions used to take place. It was built in 1874 for the current Maharaja’s great, great grandfather, Jayaji Rao Scindia, the then ruler, with Sir Michael Filose as the architect. Reputedly, built on the likeness of Versailles Palace. When, years later I did have an occasion to see the palace at Versailles. I just couldn’t connect it with Jai Vilas However, at least as far as I am concerned, I found it better looking than the Buckingham Palace. When I happened to stand before the Buckingham Palace much, much later I was deeply disappointed with its looks. It looks squat, bland and grim like some of its residents while Jai Vilas has a more interesting facade and has some architectural character.


The Victoria College clock tower was another striking feature that stood out and captured the attention from the terrace. The College was where my father used to go every morning to teach. It was around 50 years old then, inaugurated by Lord Curzon in 1891. It was a degree college and the only one in Gwalior State. We used to go to the College grounds every day along with father who would be playing tennis or badminton or even occasionally acting as a referee in football matches. We used to be mostly the only kids of a professor around and hence would attract the attention of the students almost all of whom were well-known to my father. Invariably every time a group photograph of the College team of football or hockey would be taken the boys would take us along if we happened to be around to sit on the ground along with some of them. The two of us – the two youngest siblings – figured in many such photographs, the earliest one I remember was of 1939 standing close to my father in my green blazer with even a tie.
Victoria College

 Those days the strength of the colleges used to be small - in hundreds, not like the present times when the strength touches five figures. When I used to be a toddler the College probably had only 150 students. Gwalior was a small town and only the middle class – then very small in size – would be able to provide higher education to the children. Unlike the present times, the teachers were a highly respected lot – not only by the students, but also by the feudal and far richer businessmen. Knowledge was respected and those who possessed them were highly regarded.

While talking of college group photographs I am reminded particularly of one student whose name
was Naeem Ahmed. It was he who would insist on our being included in the photograph. He would keep telling us to look at the camera lens as a bird was to fly out of it – an old ploy to prevent children from being distracted. He was short but a handsome boy with wavy hair who used to be a very good badminton player. Partnering with one Hafiz Ahmed he regularly won the doubles trophy. He would frequently come to our hose to take lessons from father. While he would wait we would go and give him a few tickles. He enjoyed them as he was a good sport. Before leaving for Pakistan he came and saw father and all of us. We were sorry to see him go as indeed we were sorry to see Abdullah leave. There was so much of goodwill between us and it was suddenly snapped.

The clock tower of the College would register its presence right through the 24 hours of the day with its hourly melodic chimes that were, for want of any noise of motorised traffic, audible for quite some distance all around. We could hear the chimes in our house, more so at night. Talking of the clock tower reminds me of the evening when two of my siblings and I in the lap of a help had gone up the three floors of the clock tower. The weekly winding up of the clock was due that evening. The narrow confines of the tower unnerved me and then all of a sudden ear-splitting, deafening chimes – six for the hour of six – frightened me to tears. Inside the tower the chimes were horribly loud, more like blows of a hammer and did not sound to me melodic at all.

*Photos from internet

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Mother – homage on her birth anniversary

January 1st next is going to be my mother’s 114th birth anniversary. She was lucky to have been born on the first day of 1904 and that too in a very well to do family which in those days was described as “Bhadralok”. Her father was from amongst the landed gentry and was deeply influenced by the social changes that were sweeping through Bengal a little more than a century after commencement of the British rule. Educated in the Western ways fostered by the British in 19th Century Bengal, he became a Brahmo, member of a liberal sect of Hindus that came into being after the Bengal Renaissance. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dwarka Nath Tagore were the main progenitors of the movement of Brahmo Samaj that received official approval in 1860, in the process severing the links it had with Hinduism.

My mother’s father was a typical “Bhadralok” if any there was one, as he belonged to the new class of “gentle folk” that arose during 19th Century Bengal. Anybody who could show considerable amount of wealth and standing in society and was inclined towards Western or European values would be a “bhadralok”. Because of his wealth and standing in society he was appointed Deputy Metropolitan Magistrate in Kolkata around the turn of the 20th    Century. In those days it was money and influence that carried the day; merit was to be reckoned with only in the Indian Civil Services examinations held in England.

 He was quite well known to some social and political activists who have iconic status today. For example, he was close to Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a social reformer of note, who eventually did the estate planning for my grandfather. He was also known to Surendranath Banerji, an ICS of 1871 vintage and later founder of nationalist political organizations. His nephew was married to my mother’s elder sister whose daughter used to live in an old rambling severely fragmented house of the Bannerji estate in the Bow Bazar area, entry to which is now from a narrow lane named after father of Surendranath Banerji. I used to meet her regularly in the mid-nineties when I was posted at kolkata.
Mother’s father was also known to Tagore whose Santiniketan got his children as pupils when it was established in 1901. Mother seemed to have seen Tagore in Jorasanko, Tagore’s house in Kolkata, where his plays used to be enacted. She used to tell us about how Tagore would dance as he sang along during the performances of his dance-dramas. I later visited the place and was shown the courtyard that would be converted into a hall with a stage for performers.

Affluent as the family was my mother and her older sister never had to do any household chores. In fact the family used to live in a house in Brindaban Mallik Lane, near College Street on the upper floor, ground floor was where the kitchen was and was also meant for running her father’s offices. While her eldest brother used to run nine buses in Kolkata under the trade name of Orange William and another older brother was sent to Leeds to do mining engineering, she herself was sent to Bethune College, reputed to be the first women’s college in Asia. It continues to be one of the finest women’s colleges even today according to the Accreditation Council of India. She did the licentiate in teaching and, perhaps, that is why all of us were prepared at home rather well before admissions in schools. My two elder brothers were found fit enough to be admitted in Class VI; I was myself sent away a trifle early and was admitted in Class III. Quite obviously, her teaching methods were a little more advanced than what we saw later as we progressed in our Gwalior government schools. Curiously, schooling at home that was prevalent in the early years of 20th Century is now making a come-back in the West.

From a well cushioned life she came up against hardships that persisted till almost the very end. We do not know for sure how my parents got together to get married. It was an unlikely marriage as each was from a different stream of Bengali Brahminical society inter-marriage between members of which was taboo. Perhaps that is why their marriage was kept under wraps. My father belonged to a “zamindar” (land-holder) family of East Bengal (that is now Bangladesh), but he had renounced his rights to the property and had come away to West Bengal for studies, eventually doing Masters in English Literature from Presidency College of Calcutta. He chose a life of penury and became a teacher in colleges, initially in Lahore, then in Ujjain and Gwalior and after retirement in Morena. Salaries being depressed it was difficult to sustain a family.

So, while my father would take tuitions to make some extra money my mother slogged it out at home. Having never done anything at home before her marriage she was overwhelmed by all that was needed to be done. The problem was compounded as she was torn away from her moorings in Calcutta and brought to Ujjain, a small town in Central India about a thousand miles away which fell in the territory of the then princely state of Gwalior. The very ways of the people were different as was their language. She tried to speak it but carried that inimitable Bengali-ised Hindi right till the end. She did not know to roll out chapattis but eventually mastered the art of rolling out very thin chapattis. Having never been anywhere near the kitchen before marriage, she learnt, presumably from my father, to cook Bengali meals that were akin to spicy and hot East Bengal cuisine. My uncle, who was kind of a connoisseur of East Bengal cuisine used to love the food dished out by her.

Apart from cooking she would do practically all the household chores despite availability of a maid. Never satisfied with the kind of work turned out by them she would sweep the entire house of six rooms in two stories and the verandas around it. Both Ujjain and Gwalior were, and perhaps still are, very dusty places where dust would fly into homes with the slightest of breeze. All the time she was racing against time to have every chore properly done. Finicky as she was about details, she would make extra efforts to keep things prim and proper. It was a middleclass household and yet with her efforts it was maintained in an admirable manner within the limited financial resources.

Five of us children were sources of enough of worries for her. My father was blissfully unconcerned about the future with no savings to fall back on. She was, however, all the time worried about us and our performances at schools and the college. She would prod us, persuade us or even scold us virtually every day and her disciplinarian trait would come into play very often. She was keen on a good life for us after we finished education and that worry would eat her from inside. She never wanted her children to suffer the hardships she happened to have seen in her life. In the process, she developed high blood pressure very early in life and would fly off the handle on slightest of provocations. We all had to contend with her temper very often which was of formidable proportions.

No wonder some of my friends used to call her “Hitler” because of her strict control over us. We had to have her permission to go out to them and very often the permission would be refused. And yet, she would be only too fond of our friends. Whether it was my eldest brother’s friends or my own she would carry on conversations with them in her Bengali-ised Hindi. The neighbourhood boys who used to be former students of my father would come and chat with her for hours in the evenings.

All this was because of her innate hospitality. She was fond of all of father’s students as also of our friends. My eldest brother’s friends would come in the evenings to just gossip and have tea and refreshments. Likewise, the small number of Bengali boys of the town would come and have cold drinks in summer or tea in winters. Even the Prabhat Pheries organized during the Bengali New Year or Tagore’s birth and death anniversaries would, generally, culminate after rendition of Bengali patriotic songs at our place where tea and refreshments would be served.

 She was hospitable to a fault. One of my friends, after flunking the BA Pass course in Delhi, would go for tuitions in the mornings. On his way he would drop in at breakfast time and have whatever we would be having. Occasionally, Ma would make parathas for him. Another friend would come and tell her before going for a cricket match that he would have lunch with us. She would blow up and shout at him but eventually he was welcome at lunchtime. An ice-cream making contraption was acquired for ice-cream binges in summers where the neighbourhood regulars would be welcome. Again, when all her children had gone away on postings and only I was around she would frequently force one of my friends, a regular visitor, to stay overnight. It seems, his mother got suspicious and one evening came over to check out the Ma he would mention as excuse for staying away from home at night.

 Our old associates even now recount how hospitable she was despite my father’s modest salary. To my mind it was all because of her breeding, the way she grew up at Kolkata. Despite having no solid or liquid assets, mother never really cringed away from these social niceties. She was forthright and outspoken but when it came to hosting friends of father or of her children or even her own she used to be very generous.

She ran her household single-handedly and was always complemented by everyone as a very competent housewife. Apart from running a very efficient household she would stitch all our clothes. I remember during the Great War cloth was rationed and whatever little was procured she would stitch clothes out of them for us, improving her performance with time. Her Pfaff sewing machine is still with me, occasionally used by my wife, otherwise kept as an heirloom.  Thankfully, there was no pervasive system of school uniforms when we were children as all our shirts and shorts were stitched by her. She was very good at embroidery as well. Those days tables were seldom without any table-cover on them; my mother would busy herself embroidering on tablecloths in her spare time. I think I still have some pieces embroidered by her.

On recounting her selfless strenuous efforts I cannot but deprecate myself for not taking care of her the way she deserved. It is so ironic that we seem to realize the worth of our near and dear ones only when they are no longer around us. I feel no end of remorse in not having done all that that should have been done for her comforts and wellbeing - she having slogged so hard to put us where we are today. Even now our friends say very truly that we were successfully launched on our careers only because of her unrelenting and untiring efforts.

It has been more than 36 years since she left us and yet scarce is the day when I do not remember her. That certainly is neither here nor there. Now the only thing I can do is to wish eternal peace for her new abode wherever that might be

Friday, December 29, 2017

Memories of an ordinary Indian :: 8

Raja Man Singh's Palace, Fort, Gwalior
On summer nights we used to sleep out in the open on the terrace over the second floor rooms. It was a biggish terrace which used to be cooled with a lot of water earlier in the evening before the beds were made up right on the floor. We had a water outlet on the second floor and it used to get the public supply with enormous pressure. There were no personal tanks or pumps for water those days. It was 24/7 metred uninterrupted supply with such pressure that it would facilely climb on to the terrace. What is more, we could drink it right off the tap without any fears of infection; it was so well filtered and treated. It seems to be crime today to have wasted all those hundreds of litres of water for cooling the cement terrace that relentlessly received the heat during the long summer days from the overhead sun. But, there was no alternative. Separate lines for untreated water were just not there.

From the terrace we could see the famed Gwalior Fort that was built on a 300 to 400 ft high hill dominating the town on the north. Its ramparts used to face us. Beyond them were the Houses which had the dormitories of the boys of the Scindia School, a public school for the children of the feudal gentry or those who could afford those high expenses on their wards. One such House was visible from our terrace with its dim lights. What was, perhaps, more interesting was that guns used to boom twice daily from behind the ramparts marking the hours of 12 noon and 9.30 at night. I wonder whether these would boom were meant to tell the people the time as most of the households could not afford watches and time-pieces or whether it was a practice continued since it was an army cantonment of the Scindias. The guns ceased to boom after the state was merged in the Indian Union.

The Fort remained a mystery for quite some time until the family went up to meet a former neighbour who was appointed a teacher at the School. The Fort has two approaches – one from the north that steeply climbs on to the Fort through a series of gates ending at Man Singh’s Palace. The climb was so steep that no motor vehicle could make it to the top in those days. One daring Air Force officer posted at Gwalior during the fag end of the Great War drove his station wagon up to Man Singh’s Palace creating quite a flutter in the town. However, for those who did not have motorised conveyance this was the access that was used as tongas would go right up to the entrance around which the Old Gwalior town had developed. Likewise, for the return trip tongas would be available down below. I remember going with the family climbing the steep slope on foot and then trudging about a kilometre and a half to the House where our acquaintance used to reside being the warden of the dorm.

The other approach was from the west and it was a more gradual climb to allow motor vehicles to go up. It climbs on to the fort with precipices on both sides with thick vegetation down below where tigers were reported to have been seen. On one side, across the precipice, there were huge rock cuts of Jain Tirthankaras on the rock face. This approach was the access for all those who used to visit the Fort or the Scindia School. I have fuzzy memories of the historic monuments located on the Fort but I clearly remember the elation I felt on spotting father’s Victoria College as I looked down from the parapets at the town sprawled in front. The Maharaja’s Jai Vilas Palace, of course, could very easily be spotted with its expansive grounds full of trees and manicured lawns.

Photo from internet

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Our Life, Our Times :: 13 :: Denims catch India's fancy


Denims today have become items of universal wear in India. These seem to have become favourites of every one – whether a billionaire or a lowly workman, urban socialite or a rustic plebian. The differences, if any, will be only in the quality of the cloth or its design and stitching - the basic material however remaining the same, the fabric.

 It is amazing to contemplate the way the things have changed over the last few decades in regard to the usage of denims. In urban India or in its rural hinterland denims have won general favour and acceptance so much so that a retired judge of a high court, while talking of her tenure as a chief justice, made a mention of how she prohibited the staff  from coming to work in denims. It is not unusual to find workers coming to work in government offices in denims. Even in villages denims have become the favourite daily wear, most probably because of its amenability to rough and regular use.

A recent report, however, indicated that the demand for the cloth in the country did not build up in the manner it was expected. Sometime back the demand had strengthened and to meet that new capacity for manufacture of the cloth was added. New mills came up but they are functioning only up to 60 or 70% of their capacity on account of a shortfall in off-take of the fabric. One wonders whether it is a case of shrinking demand or over-capacity in the sector that has pulled down the production. It is well known that we have what is known as a herd mentality. Maybe tat was the reason that more than necessary number of mills came up flooding the market. Denim manufacturers had a flourishing run ever since Kasturbhai Lalbhai group’s Arvind Mills pioneered its manufacture in India. Today Arvind Mills with its capacity of more than 100 million metres per annum is one of the leading manufacturers of denim in the world. It even varies the quality according to the needs of its designers who are based both, in India as well as abroad.

When we were young we knew that the cowboys of the US wore “jeans” – the word that was used for special trousers made for them of denims. They would ride horses wearing them. In fact, their entire outfit including the shirt used to be made of denims. In the wild-west movies actors like John Wayne and those of his ilk would always be in denims with guns sticking out of their holsters that would be within their easy grasp enabling them to be “fast guns”. Their hulk with a muscular and hungry look decked up in denims topped by a Stetson and other accoutrements, made them exude muscle power and toughness that sometimes made even the sheriff in the movie squirm before them.

While today boys and girls wear denims to colleges, or, for that matter, every and anywhere, we had no such luck in our times. Sixty-odd years ago jeans were scarce in India, more so in the backwaters of Gwalior where I was growing up. Once, however, I happened to see my friend Anand’s older brother Jagat Bamroo, a class mate of my sister wearing jeans in the college. I gave it a good look and was impressed by the indigo of the warp and the bold stitches in red along the seams and for the bold patched hip-pockets. The bottom cuffs were turned up like those of the trousers of yore revealing the whites of the weft. That was my introduction to “cowboy jeans” but I did not get into one till much later in life when the cloth started flowing out of the Indian mills.

Denim can be used for all kinds of dresses, particularly for women. While in men’s wear denims find use in making of trousers, shirts, jerkins, fashionable caps, etc., in the area of women’s wear sky is the limit for its usage. Women use it for “jeans”, skirts, shorts, jerseys, dungarees, caps and even shoes or sandals. In India it is used for designing women’s “kurtas” and “kurties”. Fashionistas let lose their imagination and have a field day in designing dresses for their clientele and every year new designs flood the market. Already, the fashion trends for 2018 are in the print media for women to choose from to suit their sartorial tastes and the mix that is there in their wardrobes.

Denims come in different varieties. There are crushed denims or stone washed or acid washed denims or even marble denims – each is used by the designers according to the fancy of the fashionista. Then the designers go further up and add value to the garments by working on them with embroidery or patch work and such like. Some go much farther and add laces to the hems to give them a formal or celebrity look. Those who have stacks of money go and get diamonds studded to various parts of their dresses and they do so even with shoes made out of denims. Then there are others who make fashion statements out of ripped or frayed jeans. Some ripped jeans are so weird that a substantial part of legs around the thighs and knees remain uncovered.

The burgeoning population of India’s shanties or what are known as “JJ colonies” have not missed out on denims. One would find boys and girls emerging from them wearing whatever is trending. If it is the current body-hugging skinny denims, they have it and love to flaunt them. A whole new system of marketing has emerged to cater to the demands from this unlikely source. Used clothes markets, or markets that deal in indifferently stitched material or even duplicates of popular brands – all are oriented to cater to this genre of clientele. Some from this clientele are quite choosy as I have known people from these sections who would not be satisfied unless a pair of trousers carried a sticker of a well-known brand on its back pocket.

Denims have thus firmly established themselves in the imagination of Indian youth whether in the metros or in the back-yards of rural India. The traditional “dhoties or pyjamas” of ordinary people have yielded place to garments made out of denim. It is amazing how a fabric originating in France in the 19th Century that somehow getting purchase in far away United States in its ranching days has firmly established its authority world over and, more so, over India. If Indians take home something as their own, none would be able to compete with them, generally, because of sheer numbers. No wonder, out of the 700 million metres of the fabric produced world over 100 million are produced in India, feeding the ever-escalating demand from what would seem to be the Rising India.

*Photo from internet
26th December 2017

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