Tuesday, 23 September 2008


This is the picture of a pallankuzhi – a game that children, maybe even grown ups used to play about 50 or 60 years ago.

When my mother was writing a blogpost about toys of long ago, I had to surf the net to get a picture of one. And here, on a visit to one of the many handicrafts fairs that pop up every now and then in the neighbourhood, was one just asking to be photographed.

When I was discussing this with her, my sister told me she has one in her bungalow in the tea garden, that my brother had gifted it to her girls, and that Ma had taught them to play it – the only way to keep the games alive. In Madras, when the Mylapore Festival is held every year, there is a revival of interest in this game.

There were a couple of less grand ones, too, all huddled together with a lot of brass and copper vessels. I was told that they were all antiques from a Chettinadu collection. I took a good look at them and the exotic prices they were displaying – even after a 10 % discount, they ran into thousands. (The pallankuzhi was marked Rs. 1800, I forgot to ask if it included the shells.)

I realized that I had a fortune at home! And with that satisfaction, wandered off to look at other stuff.

This collection of fruits and vegetables looked good enough to eat.

And the symmetry of these mugs was eye-catching.

Glass bangles, arranged so beautifully..... my weakness ...

And these colourful pieces displayed so artistically made a great background, but the salesman was in no mood to show us any other pieces. Just like the girl who took no interest in pulling out the embroidered tops I wanted to see.

It was a kind of perverse (or inverse) working – what we did not want to buy, enthusiastic sales persons tried to force us to buy – what we did want, they weren’t willing to show us.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


Nearly 25 years ago, 1986, to be precise, a great escape took place from the Tihar Jail, and it was the scandal of the day! The man who made the headlines was prisoner Charles Sobhraj, a Frenchman of Indian and Vietnamese origin. His crime was robbing foreign tourists, and he was said to have killed more than 12 people, before being caught and imprisoned in Tihar jail. But in his 10th year he managed to escape.

The following article appeared in The Indian Express then. It was written by my brother, who was then with The Indian Express as a sports journalist.


By T.R.Ramakrishnan

The Tihar Jail Warders’ Association has decided to host an inter-ward sports meet for prisoners.

The winners will be presented the Charles Sobhraj Running Trophy, which was constituted at a recent lunch meeting. Runners-up will be allowed a two-day furlough to Gwalior. Also-rans will get a two-day pass to visit the New Delhi Railway Station.
The highlight of the meet will be the lunch-break, during which a dessert of custard and grapes will be served to the games officials.

The following events are under consideration for inclusion in the meet:

Sprint: 100 m, 200 m: Prisoners will assemble at the starting line. Those who wait for the starter’s pistol will be shot.
Middle Distance: Special event for policy makers, who go neither here nor there.
Long Distance: Race will start at the main gate of the jail and pass through Delhi Airport, New Delhi Railway Station, the Inter-State Bus Terminus before turning back to the jail. Those who return will be shifted to the ward for mentally retarded.

Pole Vault: To be held with only one height – that of the outer perimeter wall of the jail.
For want of poles, high-jumpers may also enter the event. Failure will mean the long drop—at the gallows.

Judo, Wrestling, Boxing and other martial Arts: Instead of a knock-out system where prisoners fight each other to reach the final, prisoners will exhibit their prowess by tackling armed guards. The one who knocks down the most, using any form of unarmed combat, will be the winner.

Fencing, shooting: Since weaponry is not given to prisoners, these events will not be held. However, if any participant in the Martial Arts category, after knocking out a gaoler takes possession of a weapon, he can start competition in this event.

Team games: There will be no team games. Prisoners are being given a chance to show individual enterprise. Anyone showing signs of cooperation, either with officials or other players, will be disqualified and asked to become an official (See guidelines for officials).

The Winner: The ward with the maximum number of escapees will win the Charles Sobhraj Running Trophy. But if anyone retains (or returns) to receive it, the ward will forfeit the right to claim the trophy. Note: The trophy cannot be claimed posthumously.

Guidelines for Games officials: Only those officials and gaolers who were witness to the event which led to the formation of these games (The Charles Sobhraj escape) will be entitled to supervise in the games.

Officials are not expected to hamper a prisoner (participant) in any way, and should ensure that no one, barring another contestant, makes things difficult for the participant.

Officials will be expected to participate with full-hearted enthusiasm. Those who die will not be considered when inquiries into negligence of duty are ordered. Injured officials will be expected to produce evidence that the injuries were not self-inflicted. Survivors will be given a chance to participate in the second Games.

Did my brother have foresight? I was amazed when I came across this. See the last paragraph there.

Monday, 15 September 2008


Heliconia! The name sounds so beautiful, like a Greek goddess's.

And the flower looks divine. I found these growing in friend Gita’s garden (yes gardening is another of her talents) where she grows them among other plants.

The bud is tight and flat and looks like a cardboard cutout painted in gay colours. As it unfurls petal by petal, it opens in all its glory swinging like a streamer.

It is called the poor man’s bird of paradise, an exotic family of flowers named after the equally exotic birds they resemble – but this one was rich enough for me.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


There is something or the other happening in the city, some activity which is of interest to someone – not just music concerts or dances, but lectures, talks, heritage and nature walks, even marathon walks (more on this later). Something to interest everyone. The release of a new publication is just one of these.

And interesting things do happen here, too.

September 8 was the 95th birthday of the prolific writer, Devan, whose immortal creations include ‘Thuppariyum Sambu’. When ‘Kizhakku Padippakham’ decided to republish five books of Devan, writer Charukesi, who heads the Devan Memorial Trust, decided to make it an occasion. With Badri Seshadri of New Horizon Media Private Limited, (of which 'Kizhakku Pathippakam' is a part) extending his full cooperation, Charukesi made it an evening to remember at the Sivakami Pethachi Auditorium. Cricket lovers might remember Badri as one of the founders of CricInfo.com

Badri and Charukesi

In his welcome speech, Charukesi mentioned the newsletters that are brought out regularly by the English publication houses, which announce their new releases. He thought it would be a good idea if newsletters in Thamizh could also be published with similar announcements of new writings.

Writer Asoka Mitran released the books which were received by writer Vannanilavan, who has this wonderful policy (in the light of the speech to come) of not making speeches. After releasing the books, Asoka Mitran, who is 77, spoke for about half an hour. But what his speech had to do with the day remains a mystery. He drew comparisons between Devan and his contemporary Kalki, not totally flattering. He pointed out that the diffident nature of Devan was in stark contrast to the ebullience in his writings - the only relevant remark. And went off at a tangent, providing great entertainment to me and my companions.

The highlight of the day was a first. The speeches were followed by the dramatised reading of a short story by Devan, called ‘Parvathiyin Sangalpam’, by Gurukulam Boys’ Company. No sets, but the cast did have a bit of make up on, and wore costumes to place the story in the 1950s. They each had a copy of the play from which they read out their parts, well, acted their parts would be more appropriate. Obviously the cast had had no time to learn the lines by heart, since the function had been organised in a short four days, and the deficit was camouflaged by this ploy. The reading took about an hour. The actors were all amateurs, busy with other professions - one of the ladies works with BSNL, another person at a bank, and the young girl is a student at REC, they said.

The dramatised reading gave me an idea. What if more Thamizh works were dramatized and recorded on audio cassettes, with the actors reading out the parts, in today’s culture of ‘No time to read’, they might go down well with booklovers. (Just like the audio cassettes of famous novels which are so popular in the West). And many may be tempted to actually read the originals.

The recently published volumes, Lakshmi Kadaksham, Mr. Vedantam, Justice Jagannathan, Kalyani and CID Chandru, were on display and for sale at the venue.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


Vinayaka Chathurthi is everyone's favourite festival. Children love to buy the mud dolls of Ganesa for the pooja, and the colourful little umbrella that goes with it. Also popular are the concerts, many of them held at temples, during the festivals.
At our neighbourhood temple in Warren Road, I went to attend our guru Ganga Mani's concert - and saw these illuminations outside the small temple.

Right now, the city is subjected to power cuts lasting 90 minutes every day between 6 am and 6 pm. Each area has its own time for this - we welcome the day without electriciy at 6 am. It is restored at 7.30 am

Please click on pictures for an enlarged view.