Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Army Man

The village schooling didn’t benefit me anywhere near as much as to make it worth a mention.
But one incident in particular is worth mentioning.

Whilst we were at Nerur, my uncle, an army man serving in Egypt during WWI, got disbanded and came back to the village with a severe malarial attack.
He was tall, stout and was possessed of a forbidding personality; add to this his reputation as an ex-service man, returned from the front!
It was no wonder everyone in the village treated him with a marked respect and certain reservation. Amongst the busy-bodies (aren’t there a few in any place on the surface of the earth?) there were rumors of guns, shots in the dark and at extremes day-light shootings!

We still have this cartridge at home!

At school then, one day, a teacher was endeavoring to ‘cane’ a student who was doing his best to squirm out of the way. The boy won the battle, jumped out of the way, and the lash fell on my unsuspecting lap.
This resulted in a painful welt, but I suppressed the affair without bringing it to the notice of my parents; I wasn’t the intended recipient of the caning after all.

The next morning, my uncle and I were taking our routine bath in the channel which ran right through the middle of the ‘Agraharam’. My uncle as was the norm was rubbing me down with the soap-bar. When he got to the welt on my leg, I shouted out in pain.
When he learnt what had happened, he sent word to the teacher; a call-out as it were. I tried my best to pacify my uncle, but to no effect.

The teacher came to our house, trembling, babbling a stream of excuses. A single stare from my uncle was his undoing.  I begged my uncle to proceed no further as the ‘incident’ has occurred by accident and finally, the poor teacher was allowed to escape physically unscathed but mentally bruised, with the greatest of difficulty!

Needless to say, he was thereafter extremely conscious of the banes of caning!

Kauveri Over Bounds

I remember my stay in the village for quite another reason.
The year 1924 witnessed one of the worst floods in the Kauveri resulting in large scale damage – to man, animal, property and most importantly, crop.
 Thousands of acres of land were flooded and silted causing immense economic damage.
It was this flooding of the Kauveri that prompted the building of the ‘Stanley Dam’ across the river at Mettur.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Spelling, that difficult thing!

I spent a year in the village of Nerur, a fertile little place on the banks of ‘Aganda-Kaveri’. The year: 1923 - 1924.

This tiny hamlet contained one little school, run by the village Panchayath.

My father, learned man that he was, wanted to initiate me into the world of formal schooling. I was to be inserted into the 3rd class directly.
My admission though was rather funny, as always, at my expense.

The teacher there wanted to test my language skills prior admission.

He dictated then, those two Tamil words, ‘naaku’ and ‘mooku’ ('tongue' and 'nose'). I promptly wrote down, ‘nakku’ and ‘mukku’ ('lick' & 'pant').
This somehow seemed to satisfy him. I had after all shortened those words effectively and the new words weren’t entirely alien!
He graciously placed me into the 3rd class, trusting that I would learn, since I was already over aged!!

Looking back, maybe it does not matter at all how a child studies that young. We all learn, eventually.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Why would you notice a wall?

The years have stretched before me, I'm at that age now, when physical movements are restricted and the mind is ever busy!

I sit ruminating often, upon my easy-chair, and my mind drifts ever inwards and sends me flashes of the past, clearer still in my mind's eye than what I see before my eyes today.

Sometime in the 1940's, a good 72 years ago now, I was a young man on the hunt for a  job.
By some luck, I landed into a newly organized department of civil defence, the ARP, headed by a senior police officer.

This cockney gentleman, a shell-shocked veteran of WWI, by the name of Charles, was designated as the ARP controller. His character, in a few words, was a mixture of arrogance and self-deceit, and I, had the dubious honor to be his stenographer.

I was allowed to take his notes, run his errands, type his letters and handle his affairs. What I was not allowed, was the luxury to sit in front of him.
I was expected to stand by his side, do what best I could to take notes, dictated in a thick accent and unacceptable English!

One day, we were engaged in business as usual, him dictating and me taking note of it, when suddenly he started showing symptoms of what could very well have been an epileptic fit! His hands wrapped tight around a paper weight, his face flooded, red with blood, teeth clenched and lips trembled!

He burst out then, "You Indian Bastards!!". Startled, I realized that that was certainly not part of the note he was dictating. I followed his gaze glaring out the window and noticed a small group of Congress volunteers parading the streets, shouting slogans, for freedom and swaraj!

It was that which had provoked the gentleman's bitter remark.

I remember wondering then, as I do now, how an English man would have reacted had his country and honor been insulted thus.
This shining example, as he sat in front of me, took no notice that an Indian stood before him, nor that what he had yelled out was an insult.
The consensus then, amongst the British, with few exceptions, was a sense of entitlement, a feeling that they were those who were born to rule, and the common Indian was unworthy of his notice.

As a wall and machine we stood before them, to be utilized, but with no emotions to injure!

Do you know how I reacted to it then? Did my seething feelings flow out?

I did nothing.
I pocketed that insult and stood before him, staring blindly at his face. An outward calm over an inner riot.
The 'British-Raj', threatened though they were under the assault of an awakening India was still a force to be reckoned with.

The officer recovered his senses, resumed his dictation, and I? I continued to do what was then my job.

On my way to Hell, or not!

A Hindu by birth, a believer in the teachings of the Upanishads by long practice and thought.
All of them, in one voice proclaim: Good deeds and intentions never fail to reward.

"Accordingly as one behaves so does he become. The doer of good becomes good, the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous actions. Others become evil by evil actions."

- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter 4, Brahmana 4, Verse 5

"As is his desire, so is his will. As is his will so is the deed he does. Whatever deed he does that it is which he attains."

- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter 4, Brahmana 4, Verse 5, in continuation

But also, there is the proverb, "The way to hell is paved with good intentions."

This set me thinking. How can good intentions take you to hell? Is it for lack of actions based on intentions, or is it because there are always unintended consequences?

My experiences over the years, on the surface, seem to prove the proverb right!

Working as a professor in college, I was entrusted with the organization of a camp for the students.
I had to take the students out, to a camping site, remain there for a few days, organize activities involving self-help, first-aid etc.

I embraced the task whole-heartedly. Working on it day and night for the period involved.

The principal, a communal frenetic, prejudiced as he was against me, unbelievably sponsored petitions, alleging misuse of funds on poor organization of the camp! The bureaucracy being what it is and my higher authorities knowing the character and caliber of those involved, dismissed the charges. What an escape it was!

A fitting reward for good intentions, indeed it was very nearly not so!

But faith, that wonderful thing, allows me consolation; That which happens in this world is immaterial to what awaits me in the one to which I go!

The Roaring Twenties And The Glorious Thirties

That was a  period of great excitement and patriotic fervour. 
Happily, I was at the midst of all this excitement at Madurai.

Those were days when communication facilities were primitive and instant reporting was unimagined.
We depended upon National dailies like The Hindu and The Swadesamithran for news. They did full justice to the National Movement by reporting in full, page after page of speeches by great leaders like the Mahatma and Nehru.

We waited, often impatiently for the arrival of the papers and went through the speeches from beginning to end with religious zeal. 
Fired by the spirit of the day, we spoke all day of Satyagraha and boycott.
We made it a point to spin on the takli and wear only kathir.

At Gandhigram, when I was much older

Dreams of freedom, spun on the wheel

We were young boys in the fourth form and the year was 1929. The Simon Commission was deployed and there was a national hue and cry for it's boycott. On the day the Commission visited Madurai, we planned secretly, to participate in the boycott with high hopes to be arrested, what a badge of honor it would be!

We skipped school without notice, stood in one of the thoroughfares through which the commission was to drive past, hoisting black flags in our hands, ready with the slogan "Simon Commission go back!". 

Oh! But what a flop!
The Commission had taken a different route, anticipating protests.
And us young boys, it was no wonder we returned home with sheepish faces!


Thursday, 19 April 2012

A teacher at work.. Learning lessons of his own

At my own expense, a funny experience that I would like to share with you.

It was the year 1937, I had just graduated from college, unleashed into the world with a degree in hand!
And I, like many people around me, was faced with the monster problem of employment, or rather, the lack thereof.
The world was still writhing in the grip of the great depression.

At this pressing juncture, I chanced to meet the Head-Master of the school in which I had studied. He asked me in what capacity I was occupied, I told him that I was occupied in the search of it.
He offered me a temporary post, for a period of three months, of School-Master at my old school.
I jumped at this fortuitous offer and arrived at school promptly to take up my duties.

The Head-Master assigned to me the task of educating the Fourth-Form in the intricacies of the English language.
All the other teachers at school were seasoned-veterans, my old masters and even in their hallowed company, I felt confident.

I entered the class, at a brisk walk, to face my students for the very first time. I felt no discomfort, no apprehension.
I started teaching and found the students receptive. Feeling justified in my untested confidence, I sat on the arm of the teachers chair.

And lo! I continued my descent to the floor!
There I was on the floor, lying spreadeagled in a daze, the class was risen in an uproar!
The masters from the adjacent class-rooms rushed in to find me still on the ground and all else confusion!

That old chair, in my old school, with it's it's old rusted bolts, had tested a confident new teacher and found him wanting!

Not much damage was done, but a lesson was learnt.

Overconfidence was aptly rewarded.