Friday, July 18, 2014

Teachers who made a difference

Right through school and college, I have been lucky to have had excellent teachers.  Principal Balasubramaniam from primary school was a disciplinarian - sir, if I have to ever create a character who is a principal, he will be modeled after you.  Gayathri Miss from Class VII for the excellent way in which she taught science and Brinda Miss from Class V and Class VII for math.  TKS, who taught geometry in Class X for instilling a sense of order and aesthetics that holds me in good stead even today.  TKP and VSS - english professors in college, and the best that I have come across.  Prof. KRN standing as a colossus, who taught accounts for most of my college years - I am truly indebted to you sir.
There are however four teachers who have had the maximum impact and moulded my character.  I am indeed blessed to be touched by their presence.

Mamatha Miss
Samaja Seva Mandali.  Class VII.  Social Studies.  Those days social studies meant history, geography and civics.  Mamatha Miss joined our school in that year and she was actually a replacement for another, who was more popular.  It was because of her that we we realised there was a world outside our own small Class VII.  Be it current affairs, world events, contemporary history beyond what was covered in text books, she exposed us to it all.  She taught us to question, to think and to seek.  Most important, she instilled that thirst for knowledge, a thirst that is yet to be sated.  I hope it never is.  Thank you Miss, for making me realise my place as a responsible citizen.

L Hanumanthiah
Vijaya High School.  Class VIII - Chemistry.  Class X - Physics.  Let me be honest.  LH was not popular with most students because he did not 'dictate notes'.  Nor did he care whether you kept a '200 page single ruled book' for classwork or a '100 page single ruled book' for homework.  He never gave any.  Nor did he read out ever from the text book.  In a class of 45 minutes, he taught the prescribed syllabi for 30.  He had completed the 'portions' three months before allotted time.  The 'kudumis' hated him.  His stories from the US bored the rest.  I looked forward to the stuff he discussed beyond the syllabus.  In the pre-google, pre-internet, pre-computer era, he was the only source of information.  It was from him that I learnt of teleportation, ESP, the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, quantum physics, developments in science and a whole host of other things.  He taught us to question, to think and to seek.  Thank you sir, for making me a thinking individual.

R Ravishankar
Vijaya College.  I B.Com - Business Mathematics.  III B.Com - Financial Management.  RS literally stormed into our college life.  During our I and II PU, he was on deputation to another college.  Already a senior lecturer, he was working on his P.hd and was in running for a teaching position at IIM-Bangalore.  A strict disciplinarian, he brooked no nonsense in class.  If for example he had asked everyone to bring the log tables to the next class, you had to.  Those who didn't, were asked to leave the class.  No excuses.  No exceptions.  His teaching was so impactful, that the concepts remained long after the academic years.  The grounding I received in Financial Management helped me during my MBA, nearly a decade later and still helps in my investment banking career, nearly a decade and a half after we walked into his class.  I still have the class notes from then.  He challenged our understanding of the concepts constantly, never letting us take things at face value.  He taught us to think, to be challenged and to respond to the challenge.  Thank you sir, for the solid grounding in concepts of finance and for instilling the confidence to respond to challenges.

K Rama Nayak
Vijaya College.  II PU, I B.Com, II B.Com - AccountancyAccountancy is synonymous with KRN.  He used to kid that anyone who simply sat through his classes would pass the exams.  That was no joke.  Spurning offers to teach at foreign universities, he taught for nearly three decades at Vijaya College, churning out thousands of students grateful to him for the grounding in accountancy.  The training he imparted helped hit the ground running during my subsequent CA training and career in accounting and audit.  One of my first assignments passing out of college was to prepare the monthly accounts of a services company.  But for the training in college, I would have been at sea with that assignment.  There was something more he taught - not by speech but by actions.  Hard work, discipline, to be the best in whatever you did and above all, hope.  Hope that no circumstance is so bad that you cannot rise from it.  His life is a study in these.  Thank you sir, for teaching accountancy and teaching us how to live life.

Thank you sirs, ma'am, for everything. Words truly, are not sufficient.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Book review: Em and the Big Hoom

Read Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto, thanks to my dear friend AN
This book is not a tear jerker - surely, the people in that house cannot wake up every morning and cry for 25 or so years, can they? Em's condition becomes a 'part of life', but yet, it tears their life apart. Though in a strange way, it is what keeps them together. When Em dies of a heart attack in the end, the son wonders, 'what now?' For those who have never known a normal life, can life be normal ever?
A beautifully written, un-pretentious, honest book. Breath of fresh air, did I say?
who lent the book. An absorbing read, finished it in one sitting. Though I am a bit sceptical of books that talk of personal crises, this was a wonderful book! Written in an autobiographical tone, Jerry Pinto describes growing up with Em - a mother who is manic depressive, bi-polar and in short, in the author's words "Mad". Without being melodramatic or overly sentimental, Jerry Pinto takes us through the life of a boy growing up in a middle class Mumbai home with a mother who has a psychiatric condition, a father - the Big Hoom who is the pillar holding the family together and an elder sister Susan. With mercurial wit suffused with feeling and not self pity, the author makes his story your own. When Em discusses her sex life with an adolescent son, your face turns as red as his. When the son does not want to go home, you understand. When the son, who loves his mother dearly, calls her a 'disgusting bitch' you understand. When Em has a cancerous growth on her tongue and she makes her children promise not to tell the Big Hoom, and they don't - you understand.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Historical Saga of Chitradurga by Ta.Ra.Su. - Part 1: Kambaniya Kuyilu

History was just a 'subject' when I was growing up.  The history of Karnataka was limited to the few pages in standard text books that recounted briefly the names, years of reign and key achievements of prominent kings of the dynasties that ruled Karnataka.  The stray Amara Chitra Katha comic on one or two such rulers (largely restricted to the very famous such as Krishnadevaraya) added slivers of information.  Names of the dynasties, starting with the Shalivahana and Ganga and ending with the Wodeyars and the names of one or two famous kings in each completed the cumulative knowledge of Karnataka history.

In recent years, the stray thirst for information was whetted by wikipedia which needless to add is quite basic.  Unfortunately, the glory of Karnataka's history is lost to most kannadigas themselves.  The dormant thirst to understand our past glory surfaced while reading books by Bhyrappa (Aavarana) as well as the well researched and outstandingly presented popular work of historical fiction on Genghis Khan - the Conqueror series by Conn Iggulden.  It was with a sense of shock I realised that there is little available history, leave alone historical fiction on the antiquities of kannada heritage.

In that pervading vacuum, Ta.Ra.Su. stands tall as a beacon of light.  In addition to the well known eight volume historical fiction series on the paleyagars of Chitradurga, he has also penned historical novels on Amoghavarsha Nrupatunga (titled Nrupatunga) of the Rashtrakutas, on Vishnuvardhana (titled Hoysaleshwara Vishnuvardhana) of the Hoysalas, as well as novels on Chavundaraya (titled Shilpashree) who commissioned the monolith statue of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola.  He is also the author of Hamsageethe, on the life of a singer in Chitradurga when it passed from the paleyagars into the hands of Haider Ali.

Ta.Ra.Su. as he is popularly known is Taluku Ramaswami Subba Rao's pen name. A giant in kannada literature, he has penned over 60 works, many of which have been made into critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies. Naagarahaavu, Hamsageethe, Chakrateertha, Chandavalliya Thota are just a few of his novels that have been made into popular movies.

Hailing from Chitradurga district in Karnataka, a place with a long history, many of Ta.Ra.Su's novels including those with contemporary social themes are based in Chitradurga. A prominent writer of the pragathisheela style of writing started by Aa.Na.Kru., Ta.Ra.Su. was an early master of the historical fiction genre. The pinnacle of his writing career was Durgastamana, based on the last Madakari Nayaka who died defending Chitradurga against Haider Ali. That novel got Ta.Ra.Su. the Sahitya Akademi Award posthumously. Durgastamana is the culmination of a 8 volume series on the paleyagars of Chitradurga. The first in the series is Kambaniya Kuyilu.

Literally meaning 'Harvest of Tears', Kambaniya Kuyilu narrates the events that occur after the death of the second Madakari Nayaka in 1674 C.E. The events that follow the death of Madakari Nayaka II occupy about four lines in the chronicles of Chitradurga's history. Ta.Ra.Su. himself mentions in the foreword that he has used this little information to weave the tale narrated in Kambaniya Kuyilu.

The plotline itself is straight forward. Madakari Nayaka II is the youngest of his father Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka's three sons. Since his elder brothers pre-deceased his father, he ascends the throne, bypassing his brother's sons. This creates dissatisfaction among the dalavayi's i.e., the commanders of the army. The dalavayi's want the successors of the eldest son Sarjenayaka to ascend the throne since Sarjenayaka was a brave warrior who had fought alongside the dalavayi's in prior wars. They feel slighted that neither the royal family nor the ministers consulted them in choosing a successor.

Some twenty years later, Madakari Nayaka II dies without an heir. Ideally, Sarjenayaka's eldest son Lingannanayaka should have ascended the throne. However, Madakari Nayaka II had suspected that the dalavayi's were conspiring to increase their own power and Lingannanayaka would only be a puppet ruler in their hands. Therefore, he intends to adopt his youngest wife's brother Obannanayaka. However, for certain reasons, he does not complete the adoption formalities. Before dying, he expresses his wish in private to his youngest queen and Bhuvanappa, his chief minister, that Obanna should be the next king. However, in the absence of an express statement or will, it is not an easy wish to execute, in the face of opposition from the Dalavayi's who have reared their head again.

The youngest queen convinces the chief queen Obavva Nagati not to commit sati and to ensure that Obanna ascends the throne. All other queens commit sati on the dead king's pyre. Obavva who until then had remained aloof from the politics of the palace, takes on the responsibility to fulfil her dead husband's wish. She is helped by the chief minister Bhuvanappa. In the meanwhile, the dalavayi's led by Desanna and Muddanna are restless, since they fear that even this time, their wishes will not be considered. They want to see Linganna on the throne.

Anticipating opposition from the dalavayis, Bhuvanappa advises Obavva that as the chief queen, she has the right to complete the adoption formalities and the son so adopted will have the legal right to ascend the throne. He also advises her to have an open chat with Linganna. Obavva takes Linganna into confidence and deftly convinces him to relinquish his right to the throne in favour of Obanna. She also asks him to guide Obanna who is only 16 years old, in ruling the state. This he accepts and in return, Bhuvanappa relinquishes his position as chief minister in favour of Linganna.

A public announcement to the effect is made and this time, Obavva seeks the opinion of the dalavayis. Desanna airs his opinion that they would prefer Linganna to ascend the throne, but accepts Obanna when Linganna himself declares that he has relinquished his inheritance in favour of Obanna. This satisfies Desanna.

However, the junior dalavayi Muddanna is not happy. He is ambitious and bloodthirsty. His plans to make Linganna the puppet ruler foiled, he renews his claim that if Linganna relinquishes, it is his younger brother Chikkanna who should inherit the throne. Unlike the wise Linganna, Chikkanna is easily swayed and accepts Muddanna and his henchmen's support. This angers the elder Desanna, who is ultimately assassinated by Muddanna. Muddanna is declared a traitor and a prize put on his head.

Muddanna and Chikkanna hatch a devious plot and under the pretext of surrendering to the new king and accepting his overlordship, Muddanna assassinates Obanna. Unable to bear her failure to execute the wishes of her dead husband, Obavva commits suicide. Bhuvanappa is also killed in the melee alongwith other palace loyalists. The book ends on this sad note.

In line with the pragatisheela style of writing, Ta.Ra.Su. uses simple language in an almost poetical way. The text and narrative is crisp and evokes the emotions that the characters undergo. For example though they all agree that it is proper for Linganna to ascend the throne, their anxiety to see Obanna ascend the throne in fulfilment of the last king's wishes, is portrayed in a convincing manner. The conversation that Gauravva, the youngest queen has with Obavva, the chief queen convincing her not to commit sati, but instead live on to fulfil the dead king's wishes is poignant. Obavva's seeking Linganna's promise to forfeit his right to the throne and Linganna's promise are heart-touching. Kasturi Nayaka, Obanna's personal bodyguard and Girija, Obavva's hand maiden entrusted with the task of protecting Obanna, the bravery with which they carry out their task, Kasturi Nayaka's disappointment at having failed in his task of protecting Obanna, ultimately driving him to commit suicide, are heart rending scenes. The calm demeanour with which Obavva single handedly accosts the rebelling army and humbles them when they ask for more gifts makes one wonder at the sagacity of the woman who grew into her role so well, even without any prior exposure to politics! The savagery of Muddanna, even when he is having an apparently normal conversation with Desanna, is blood curdling.

All this is the magic woven by the pen of Ta.Ra.Su. He recreates the scenes so vividly, without resorting to extensive descriptions, that the reader is transported to the world of Chitradurga, in the sixteenth century! He makes the reader experience every event, the emotions, the fears and the anxieties that the characters go through. Character construction is excellent - the author brings out the inner strengths and frailties of each character, in a manner that the reader understands and empathises with. The plot itself is taut and does not sag at any point, a sure page turner.

A must read for every lover of kannada literature and history. Unfortunately, there are no translations available. Hopefully someone inspired by the magic of Ta.Ra.Su.'s pen will take up the onerous task. Until then, this treasure will unfortunately be limited only to the kannada readers, who I hope, will re-discover this classic.