Category Archives: Flashback

A walk with my Grandfather

Some of us are lucky. We get to spend a lot of time with our grandparents.  🙂

Perhaps, most of us in the 60’s/70’s generation have been pampered more by our grandparents than our parents.  The “more” has not become “less”, but with parents stepping in to do a lot more pampering, the gap seems to have reduced.

I lost my maternal grandfather, when I was 2-3 years old. The only memories I have are through photos with him, and the stories I have heard from family.

Luckily, I got to spend some more time with my paternal grandfather. I remember spending time with him from the early 70’s till ’77 – the last time I got to spend time with him. We exchanged a few post cards in the late 70’s, but I did not get to see him before he passed away in Feb 1980.

Most of the time spent with him was while holidaying in Bangalore. He & my grandmother found it difficult to deal with the extremes of the Delhi weather, and spent very little time with us in our home in Delhi.

My standout memory of him involves a short walk that we took in Jayanagar, Bangalore. It was in our 1975 holidays. On a late afternoon in June, he decided to walk from 32nd Cross, 16th Main to 39th ‘F’ Cross, 18th Main. From one son’s home to another’s.

He gave me a lesson in defensive walking, if one can call it that. In a time when the traffic was far less, almost negligible, and the pavements were broader, though just solid mud, he told me about how one should always walk facing the traffic. Even on the pavement. Given the number of “Cross” roads in Jayanagar, this was a good input. In the days before indicators on vehicles, one had to keep their eyes on the vehicles approaching to see if they showed any indication of turning onto the road that you planned to cross!

The other thing that I remember about that short walk was him pointing out the large trees or open grounds as markers. “When you see this large tree, turn right”. “Take a left on the second road after the ground”. Even today, one can possibly find me, gaping at a large tree in awe, hopefully with my mouth closed…but then you need to be around to confirm that. 😉

Screenshot 2016-03-08 at 19.34.03

The walk – From 32nd Cross, 16th Main to 39th ‘F’ Cross, 18th Main

Luckily the pavements are still wide. Many of the houses are still homes, but even this part of Jayanagar is getting commericalised now. When that happens, trees inside are felled, and motorbikes are parked on the pavement.

Some pics from July 2014 when I retraced this path on a cycle

 

 

Final word: Watch out for the combination of young and old taking a walk in your neighbourhood…who knows what memories are being created right there! 🙂

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The Kadlekayi Vendor

Off we go on our evening walk. It is drizzling. We head out towards 8th Cross, the “M G Road” of Malleswaram. The Margosa trees keep the drizzle away, but only until 9th Cross. I hear him before I see him. Tan tanna tan tan. And repeat. As we turn the corner onto 8th Cross, there he is. A kerosene lamp on his cart burning bright. Swish, swosh, swish, swosh are the sounds made by his ladle, as he sends the peanuts scurrying from one side of his pan to the other, and back again. Hot, fresh, salted peanuts. Heaven! His deft and experienced hands make three of those long, but thin paper potlas, cones, neatly folded in at the top, in quick succession. My potla is empty in a flash. Hands held out , and to my left and right, get me a few more more peanuts, and these are then savoured, one by one.

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This is a brief recollection of just one of the rainy May/June evenings in the 70’s while visiting Bangalore. A lot of my time was spent in my grandmother’s home on Margosa Road. The transition from getting to play cricket, hockey, football, pithoo, eyes-pais – late into the evening in the Delhi summer to rainy evenings every day in Bangalore was quite frustrating for me. The kadlekayi made up somewhat for it! 🙂

Final word: Well, the evening rain is back in Bengaluru (the North-East monsoon), and I got to sample the wares of one such kadlekayi vendor yesterday. He seems to have mastered the art of holding the potla while filling it such that not a single peanut makes it past the middle. His way to make more profit from the Rs. 10 that he earned from the sale. 🙂

Just another Indian Railways employee

I sensed it, before I heard it. There I was standing on Platform No. 1 of Nagpur Railway Station. Checking out which newspaper to buy. I glanced sideways. The train was moving! Bloody hell! I had not heard any announcement. Nor the normally loud horn of the diesel engine pulling my train. The superfast Tamil Nadu Express.

I turned and ran. Straight into a man carrying a steel trunk. It hit me on the shin. But, now was not the time to think about the pain. Now, was the time to run. And to catch the train. “Don’t get down from the train, before it reaches Madras” my dad had warned me last night, before the train left New Delhi at 10 PM. And here I was, running after a train that was accelerating out of Nagpur.

Well, now was the time to put all the skills learnt catching those DTC buses to school and back. I had been using the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses for the last 2 years. Initially, I would patiently wait for an opportunity to push others in, or get pushed myself into the narrow doors at the rear of the bus. That was when I was 13. Things had changed in the last one year. Running behind a bus that had started and jumping onto it had become the norm.  It was all a matter of timing. Yeah. That and the girls to impress. Were they? I will never know!

Back to the TN express. The Pantry car was going past me now. Run man! Run faster! I heard someone yell “Jaane do!” (Let it go!). Nopes. Not an option. I was now almost at the same speed as the train. As I reached for the handle of the door at the end of the pantry car, I realised that the door was closed. No time to wait. I had to grab the handle and jump on to the top step. Just as my right foot hit the step, I realised I had made a mistake. The step was wet. And I was wearing flip flops. Net result – poor grip. Just as my mind said “Oh oh”, the door was yanked open from inside, a pair of strong arms lifted me in. It was one of the pantry guys.

And then started the tirade. To my good luck, my knowledge of Tamil was not all that great. Otherwise, I might have been tempted to open the door and jump out again. In between the many unmentionable, unprintable words hurled at me, I was told in no uncertain terms of how I was a maniac who deserved to be admitted to the nearest mental hospital. I tried to say thanks. Thanks for saving my life. But it only caused him to flare up even more. Perhaps one of his colleagues felt sorry for me, and pulled him back into one of the resting areas meant for staff.

As my compartment was ahead of the pantry car, my walk across the entire length of it was one of the longest in my life. Silent they may have been, as I was limped past them – the other staff and fellow passengers in the pantry car- but I could feel the collective term they were using in their minds – Irresponsible Idiot.

The pain where my leg had been hit by the steel trunk now hurt badly. I dragged myself back to my seat 3 compartments away. As I collapsed into my seat, I understood how lucky I was. It hit me now. I struggled to keep my emotions in control. Not to cry in front of my fellow passengers. I decided to climb to my top berth in the sleeper II class and lie down for some time. The summer heat made it almost impossible to lie down there. But, I must have been tired. Overwhelmed. Because, the next thing I remember is being woken up by someone shaking my leg. Right where I had been hit earlier! I was ready to curse whoever it was. It was him. We recognised each other. I swallowed the curses. “Saapad” he said. And left the steel tray and it’s cover at one end of the berth.

He had taken the food order earlier this morning while I was still in my berth. Without my prescription glasses on, he was just a blur, from my bunk. I tried to catch his attention to try and thank him again, but he had other customers to attend to. I was hesitant because I did not want him to flare up again.

Later, after the night meal, as we were speeding through Andhra Pradesh, he came to collect the dues. I paid him. As he was collecting from others in my seating area, I hesitantly asked him “Ungal per?” (Your name?). “Muthu” he said. And he smiled at me. “Thanks Muthu” was all I was able to say.

Muthu. Just another Indian Railways employee.

 

Count the poles

The summer heat beat down upon the train. We were traveling by the Grand Trunk Express. Day 2 of the journey. An afternoon in May. We were somewhere in Madhya Pradesh. Maybe in Maharashtra. I was seated by the open window. The breeze was hot. The rexine seat was hot. My dad sat on the other window seat.  Dozing actually. Head propped up against the top of the window and bobbing up and down in tune with the rhythmic movement of the train. I reached out and shook him by his knee. He opened one eye. His eyebrow went up asking me the question that he did not mouth “What now?”. Well, I did have a question for him. “Why are we going so slow? Why can’t this train go faster?”  Dad looked out. Saw his watch. Looked out again. Silence. I knew that I had to wait. I would get an answer. Eventually. When he was ready to give it. He looked at his watch again. Murmured something to himself. Closed his eyes and said “He is not slow. We are going at approximately 70 kmph now.”

There was that moment again. I watched open mouthed…while thinking “How does he know the speed?” Of course, as any 5 year for whom his dad was his hero (He played Cricket. Regular leather ball cricket. He hit sixes. He took wickets. He took awesome catches. Yes, hero he was), it never occurred to me that he might be fibbing about the speed. It took me another 7 years, and perhaps 3-4 more such travels, before I got to understand the science behind those seemingly magic numbers.

So, here is what was happening. It was all about counting the poles. No, not the polish poles. Count the good old telephone poles. telephone pole

Put up right next to the railway tracks, connecting cities, making trunk calls possible. Yes, trunk calls. Remember them? If not watch “Chupke Chupke” here – skip to 20.49 to see what would happen when there was a trunk call.

But, we digress. Like links on the world wide web. So, lets get back to the poles. Telphone poles. Someone, I don’t know who, but sure would like to know who, used to number them. On these silver coloured poles would a patch of black paint. On it, would be painted in silver or white numbers like 511/1 or 841/9. The slash would be horizontal. The top number indicated the distance in kilometers from some city to the pole. The smaller number was an indicator of the pole number within the next kilometer. In different parts of the country, the Department of Telecom would have differing standards for the number of poles that would make a kilometer. Some had 15. Others 16.

So the trick, or the science was to look at the seconds needle on your wristwatch exactly as the train passed a pole with a fresh kilometer marked on it. And then you waited. Till you passed the pole, 10, 12 or 15 ones later, that marked the next kilometer. You counted the seconds in between the two events. You now had the time taken in seconds to traverse 1 km. You just had to divide 3600 (seconds in one hour…you knew that right?) by the number you had to get the speed in kilometers per hour or kmph.

Later, on my frequent trips between Delhi and Banglore in the mid 80’s, I used to do this to keep myself occupied. Or, at times, to impress the girls traveling in the same 2nd class cubicle. No. Not one of them was impressed. Ever. Not that I learnt. 🙂

Recently one my journey to Delhi and back, traveling in AC comfort, and with broad wide clean windows, I took the next step in impressing a 7 year old with this image as soon as he woke up on day 2 of our journey. I had made a deal with him the previous night that we both would stay awake and watch the journey unfold. His parents were suitably unimpressed with this deal. So, sleep he did. And me…well.. at 4.26 am, this is what I was doing 🙂

GPS showing speed of train

GPS showing speed of train

While he was suitably impressed, his dad, did not like this uncalled for  intrusion into the father-son relationship, and promptly showed his son the application on his smart phone that could do the same thing. The next night, both of them stayed up late into the night watching stations as we flew past them…after all, we were in the Rajdhani.

Maybe by the time he grows up, google glasses like devices will be common enough, for him to coolly say to no one in particular (but the girl  in the cubicle that is)…”You know, we are going at 180 kmph right now”, for him to be suitably rewarded with a smile. Then he can continue “I counted the poles, you know? Learnt it from this great guy who I traveled with when I was a 7 year old”

So, the next time you travel by Indian Railways…go slow.. and count the poles. Who knows…you may impress someone too? 😀

(Inspired to write this after viewing this… post … shared by my friend Chandana)