Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CAMBODIAN DIARY

.
Total Recall
.
Drivers of tuk-tuk (The Cambodian avtar of our very own Phut-Phut) in Phnom Penh swarmed around the weary passengers disgorged by the bus from Ho Chi Minh City. The one I engaged haggled hard, but once the price was settled, he became cordial and compliant. He was keen to drive me around wherever I wanted to go; and whenever. To be picked up from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) after dinner? No problem. Royal Palace? Fine. To the airport at five in the morning? Okay, I’ll be there.
.
But how do I locate you when I get out of the FCC, I asked. Here’s my cell number, said he, fishing out a visiting card from the hip pocket of his bermuda shorts. I could not conceal my surprise at the name: ‘Spiderman’. In response to my query about the unlikely name, he said, ‘Much easier than Mam Bun Heng.’ His compatriots had names like Camera, Superman and Computer, he added. Quite practical, I thought. Names foreigners would find user-friendly and easy to recall.
.
Kamasutra and Sansara
.
More on names. The Indian restaurant in Siem Reap we had dinner in went by an equally unlikely monicker: Kamasutra. Cambodian girls wearing Kerala sarees served kadai chicken and raita. The joint was owned by a Malayali. Along with the bill came a small brochure which exhorted the customer ‘Why not try South Indian delicacies at Sansara in the next lane?’
.
Footloose in the streets of Siem Reap the next evening, we spotted the same Cambodian girls in Kerala sarees under a new sign – Sansara with the sign-off line ‘for mouth-watering delicacies’. It did not need a cartographer’s skills to infer that Sansara was right behind it Kamasutra. I discovered that they even shared a kitchen and a chef. Talk of Indian ingenuity!
.
The India Connection
.
The friendly tuk-tuk driver asked my companion what his name was. He replied, Hari. Oh, Haree as in Haree-haraa, they said in a chorus. They had heard that Indian name in some context. The guide in Siem Reap was thrilled to meet us. Indians built our temple, he said, and gave us our culture. We had Khmer rulers from your country – named Jeyya-Vermman, Yesso-vermman, Sooriyya-vermman, In-dra-Vermman, Udeyya-Vermman and the like, he said in his heavily accented tongue. I felt that being an Indian, I was almost being worshipped. A great feeling!
.
A Red Herring
.
The young man who took me around the Angkor Artisans Village in the suburbs of Siem Reap where breathtaking handicraft items are made sported a plastic name plate on his shirt. Pram Bir, it said.
.
Having seen several shops with Indian sounding names like Archana, Kartika etc, I was ready to bet my shirt that Pram Bir is a corrupt form of Param Veer or Prem Veer. What does your name mean, I asked him. Five plus two, rather, seven. Seven? Yes, because I was born in the seventh month. Quite an innovative method of naming your kids, I thought.
.
The Young Salesperson
.
There were over a hundred hole-in-the-wall shops under one roof. They all sold souvenirs and trinkets. As we ambled through the aisles between rows of shops, we were accosted by vendors (all women), urging us to step in: ‘All items very cheap, sir’ and ‘Only one dollar, Sir!’ As we passed by one shop, a tiny voice repeated the call. It was a boy, barely three; I suspect he did not know enough Cambodian, but he could echo the ‘Only one dollar, sir!’ of his mother.
.
Parallel Currency
.
The official currency in Cambodia is the Riel, but US Dollars are as popular. So are counterfeits, I was warned. I had toted up a bill of 25,000 Riels (about USD 6) in the souvenir shop. The woman in charge of the shop took a tenner from me and returned four one-dollar notes. As I peered at them for genuineness, she asked, ‘I didn’t check if yours was a genuine note, did I?’
.
Pun on Angkor
.
Anchor, I guess, must be one of the most popular brands of beer in the Far East. One just cannot miss the red-blue-and-silver cans in the shops and the huge hoardings on the highways promoting the beverage from the Heineken stable. Once in Cambodia, the competing homophonic brand – Angkor – from the Carlsberg house fights for shelf-space, visibility and market share. The logo of the Angkor brand is the iconic temple. Blasphemy, wouldn’t it be, in other cultures? I mused , somewhat irreverently: does Cambodia have a whiskey in called Angkor Vat 69, a doppelganger the ubiquitous Vat 69 from the liquor giant Diageo?
.
Extending the thought, I wondered what the reaction would be if Vijay Mallya were to propose names like Benaras Brandy, Juma Masjid Gin or Velankanni Whiskey for his products. Sacrilege, wouldn’t it be?
.
A Thousand Buddhas
.
I spent nearly a whole day in the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap. It is indeed a world class centre of heritage divided into eight fascinating galleries. Before being given access to the halls, visitors are given a brief presentation that introduces the museum and its amenities. Interactive multimedia technology has been harnessed and employed in the headsets that speak seven languages. There are short documentaries on most galleries that tell a full picturesque story.
.
The awe-inspiring exhibits and the expertise in curating them facilitate a deeper understanding of the splendour of the ancient Khmer civilisation. The section that impressed me most was the gallery of a thousand Buddhas.
.
Tintin in Cambodia
.
The most avid follower of Tintin comics would not have heard of the young peripatetic reporter having set foot in Cambodia. But on sale everywhere in Cambodia are T-shirts with the words ‘Tintin au Cambodge’ and a picture of the boy astride a bicycle, with Snowy predictably in tow. Another featured Tintin and Snowy in a ‘cyclo’ driven by a Cambodian in his conical straw hat. Though short on facts, at three dollars apiece, they are not pricey.

Friday, October 09, 2009

This is Not an Obit

In the early 1970s, I used to be a resident of the YMCA Hostel on Chowringhee Road in Calcutta. I had just been transplanted from Kerala and knew as much English slang as an Austrian knew Ayurveda.
.
My roommate for a while was Ramu Salivati. (Then a sports journalist for the Statesman, he is no more.) He used to play cricket in the maidan on Sunday forenoons and kept his cricketing gear in the room. I knew nothing of that game then, I know nothing of that game now. (It was fifteen years later that my son, ten years old then, disabused me of my notion that the wicketkeeper is NOT the player standing behind the wickets, preventing them from falling when the guy in front of him swings the bat to hit the ball.)
.
One Saturday afternoon, Ramu put on his windcheater and enquired. ‘KT, are you going out anywhere today?’
.
I had no such plans. I had just bought a copy of Don’t fall off the mountain by actress Shirley Maclaine and had decided I would read it. I replied, 'No.’
.
‘A friend of mine will come looking for me. Ask him to wait, I’ll be back in half an hour,’ said Ramu.
.
A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. I did not have to open it, for a man under thirty walked in.
.
‘Ramu?’ he asked.
.
I told him what I was told to. He said, ‘Balls! He won’t be back until after 10.’
.
If he really thought so, he should have gone away. Instead, he said to himself, ‘It’s drizzling and I don’t want to get wet. I’ll wait for him for a while and see if he comes.’
.
He took off his jacket and parking himself on a chair, lit a cigarette. I sneezed. I have this allergy for cigarette smoke. He knew it the moment I sneezed. He opened the door to the balcony, went out, finished his smoke and returned to his seat.
.
We got talking. Naturally, it veered round to cricket, a subject popular with youngsters. An Australian team was on its Indian tour and was scheduled to play in the Eden Gardens in a week. He asked me something about the prospects of the hosts or about Syed Kirmani or Brijesh Patel or some other player. I drew a blank. I told him I knew nothing of cricket.
.
‘Balls!’ he said again.
.
‘What was that?’ I asked.
.
‘I said Balls.’
.
'What about balls?’
.
‘Forget it,’ he said, and asked me, ‘Where are you from?’
.
After a while, he saw the book I was reading and said, ‘A cousin on mine had read this book and had recommended it.’
.
Without a by-your-leave, he took it and put it in the pocket of his jacket. I could not even say I had not yet gone beyond the second chapter. (The book never came back to me. A few years later, I bought another copy and read it.)
.
He went to the balcony, lit his second cigarette, puffed hard at it a few times and came back.
.
He did not occupy the chair. Yanking his jacket, he said, ‘I told you the bastard won’t come.’
.
Before leaving, he took out a book from his pocket and gave it to me, saying, ‘Read this. It will give you some idea about cricket.’
.
It was a copy of ‘Kiwis and Kangaroos’.
.
When Ramu came, later than predicted by his friend, he was sozzled. In a drunken drawl, he told me his friend who had came looking for him was the author of the book. He had written it when he was twenty-three. He was Rajan Bala. That was the only time I met him.
.
Rajan Bala died yesterday.
.
I never got to read ‘Kiwis and Kangaroos’. I don’t even know where it is now.
.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Oodles of Doodles of Google

Yesterday (7 Oct 2009) when I started surfing the net, I was perplexed ... and then petrified: had the security of my laptop been compromised? Instead of the familiar multi-colour logo, all I saw was an array of thick and thin black lines as in a bar code. I thought Google’s site had been hacked.

I heaved a sigh of relief when I discovered that my fears were misplaced. What I saw was the bar code for the word Google. That was Google’s way of celebrating the 57th anniversary of bar code.


Till Google told me yesterday. I did not know that I was only five years older than bar code. It had thought it was a much more recent 'invention' coinciding with the mall-supemarket culture. The patent (USP 2612994) for machine-readable representation of data using parallel lines of different widths at different spacings was awarded to Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver on 7 Oct 1952.


It has been Google's practice to experiment with its logo by changing it to commemorate what it deems as significant events. Many may not have noticed, but early this month, Google logo paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi by through its logo.

Another day, another logo. To the utter delight and glee of self-confessed doodle-watcher like me, Google keeps coming out with interesting logos. This was their logo for St Patrick's Day. It is not as if they are occident-centric. For Holi, they had come up with a splash of colors, complete with buckets. And the start of the Chinese Year of the Rat was celebrated with a most suited visual.


If you would like to see oodles of doodles of Google (Just can’t resist the temptation to talk in rhyme all the time), go to

http://blog.arpitnext.com/2009/08/google-logo-slide-show-a-cool-greasemonkey-script-for-google-homepage.html


Here’s a bonus from me: if you want to generate the barcode representing your name, please go to http://www.barcodesinc.com/generator/index.php

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Strict Compliance

.

Those who hate officialese are well-advised to skip this post, for though I know it is not good form to use it, I cannot avoid it while narrating this story.

.

The concluding lines of any important letter from the boss and most circulars from the Head Office usually are: ‘Please confirm having noted the above instructions for strict compliance’. To the best of my knowledge and belief, nobody has ever confirmed having done so, but such a confirmation is implied and presumed. The notice calling for your explanation for having done (or not done) something would read: ‘In contravention of the instructions contained in our circular No. … dated …’

.

After a couple of years of service, this strict-compliance-business can get into your blood. Not only your blood, but of those around you, as the story of Kurien demonstrates.

.

I was relieved from the Head Office on a July Saturday with instructions to report to the Manager of Chalai branch as Accountant. When I went there, he was not present. I was told he had been admitted to the hospital. Anything serious? No, I was told. He had been bitten by a dog on Saturday night. Not to worry, it was his own pet and there was no fear of rabies.

.

A few days later, Kurien resumed duty. During a lunch recess, for want of anything else to talk about, I asked him about the canine assault he ad suffered. He said, ‘Oh, that? It was a Head Office dog.’ That was an inscrutable response, if there was one. Pressed for a reply, he elaborated.

.

After office-hours on that Saturday afternoon, Kurien had boarded a bus for Kottayam. He had a rubber plantation in the suburbs of the nearby Palai which, in his absence, his man Friday took care of. He had to go there, visit the plantation and see how well his directions were being implemented. He would stay there for the weekend and return on Monday morning. He would be back home only in the evening on Monday, he had told his wife.

.

There was nothing unusual in this. His family – wife Mariyamma, son Roymon and daughter Reenamol, why, even his dog Tiger, the scion of a cross between a mongrel and an Alsatian – was used to Kurien being away from Saturday morning to Monday evening during several weekends.

.

Mariyamma had an early dinner and tucked the children in the bed. She locked the wooden gate to the compound and unchained Tiger so that it could go round the house. Then she went to bed.

.

Monsoon was in full cry and the rivers in full spate. Somewhere between Kottayam and Palai, a bridge had been washed away and the bus Kurien was travelling by would not proceed further. The only option was to return. Which is exactly what Kurien did.

.

It was past midnight when Kurien reached back Trivandrum. The glow of the streetlights, thanks to the low voltage, barely lit the roads. He walked homewards as briskly as his legs would carry him, his handbag in his left hand and a umbrella, which proved grossly unequal to the occasion, in his right. As he turned into the lane where his house stood, power went off, plunging the area into total darkness.

.

Presently, Kurien reached home. The gate was, predictably, locked. Only after instinctively pressing the calling bell on the compound wall did he realise his foolishness in doing so when there was no power.

.

He knocked at the gate several times, but in the downpour, the deadened noise the wood made was not carried to the house. Kurien repented not having paid heed to Mariyamma’s advice to replace the wooden gate with a metallic one. The sound made by pounding on it would have woken her up.

.

Kurien called out, ‘Mariyaamme, Mariyaamme, Eti Mariyaammo … Ronmone, Eta Roymone … Reenamole, Eti Reenamole …!’ No response. If it was today, he could have used his cellphone to call them up, but we are talking of the 1970’s. All of them were under the blankets, in deep slumber,

.

How long to you wait in front of the gate of your own house, soaked to the undergarments, with no sign of let-up in the unremitting shower? Kurien made the big decision: he folded is mundu, and flinging his handbag and umbrella into the compound, he scaled the gate and jumped in.

.

The thud of the handbag had alerted Tiger. As soon as Kurien landed, Tiger pounced on him and thrust his incisors into Kurien’s left calf, Kurien concluded his story.

.

‘But then Tiger is your own dog, Mr Kurien?’

.

‘Yes, Mariyaamma had instructed Tiger to attack anyone who jumps into the compound, particularly in the night. Tiger was like branch managers who are supposed to ensure strict compliance with the instructions from the Head Office.’

.

That was how Kurien who had attempted a rather unconventional entry into is residence was punished by his own pet.

.

It's Verbal Circus!

There was this girl whom I knew when she was barely in her teens. Kicha was her nickname, the official monicker being Krishnaveni. She was a colleague's daughter. We used to live in the same neighbourhood; Kicha would come and spend a few hours during weekends with us.

In a year's time, transfer took me to a different city and occasions to meet became rare. In time, she got married and life took her to different climes. With efflux of time, we drifted.

Her parents were, of course, in touch with us. A surprise telephone call from them, a brief stopover in their home on our long drive to my hometown, a chance meeting at a wedding, we would get updated about each other's family, but we hardly got to see Kicha or her brother Anand.

Recently we ran into her - on Orkut - and shook hands. It transpired that she is interested in crosswords but was all thumbs when it came to solving them. She wanted a crash course in crosswords.

Unlike Euclid who is said to have replied to King Ptolemy who wanted an easier way to learn geometry that 'There is no royal road to geometry', I told her a simple, do-able technique. This was my recipe:

Take yesterday's puzzle, Compare with today's answer. Find out how the key relates to the clue. Like, if the clue is 'Flower with two banks (5)' and the answer is 'river', what is the connection? Nothing, at first sight.

Look hard. The river flows - therefore the river is a flow-er, a flower. The river has two banks. So there you are! 'Flower with two banks (5)' is indeed a 'river'.

Go on to the next clue. Do not give up till you connect the key to the clue. With this strategy, you need no guide.

Kicha seemed to like it. She cracked 'Plane crash in the mountains' and came up with 'Nepal'. She wanted a few more examples.

I believe that those who have proceeded beyond the fourth paragraph would be interested in my reply to Kitcha.

Here goes:

Clue: Coming from another country, I am from Michigan, shortly funding a refugee (9)
Solution: IMMIGRANT
Route: I am >> I'm >> IM; ('Shortly' indicates that the preceding or the succeeding word has to be shortened) abbreviation of Michigan is MI; a GRANT funds a refugee. IM + MI + GRANT = IMMIGRANT, a person 'coming from another country'.


Clue: An all-pervasive number (5)
Solution: ETHER
Route: ETHER is supposed to be everywhere. ETHER is an anaesthetic, something that numbs your senses, a numb-er, a 'number'.


Clue: Operation sounds like Tom's friend (or enemy?) is knighted. (7)
Solution: SURGERY
Route: Tom's friend (of Tom and Jerry fame) >> Jerry. When knighted, he becomes SIR JERRY - ('Sounds like', 'say', 'it is heard', etc imply that it is a homophone) - sounds like SURGERY, an operation.

Clue: Confusion of the Spain actor (8)
Solution: THESPIAN
Route: ('Confusion' implies that it is an anagram.) The Spain >> THESPIAN, an actor.


Clue: Type of feline that has pride for headless scream (8)
Solution: CATEGORY
Route: Feline >> CAT; pride >> EGO; Scream >> CRY. ('Headless' implies that the first letter has to be dropped; therefore RY). CAT + EGO + RY >> CATEGORY which means 'type'.


Clue: Apparel Abhishek Bachchan's in-law intended, say, to wear? (7)
Solution: RAIMENT
Route: Abhishek Bachchan's in-law >> RAI; intended >> MEANT; 'say' implies homophone. therefore MENT. RAI + MENT >> RAIMENT means 'apparel'.


Clue: When Mercury soars without, ancient city finds gentle rain from heaven great kindness (5)
Solution: MERCY
Route: Ur was an ancient city. MERCURY without UR is MERCY, 'great kindness'.

Clue: Nothing to hold a spike (4)
Solution: NAIL
Route: Nothing >> NIL; NIL holding 'A' >> N(A)IL >> NAIL and a NAIL is a 'spike'.

Clue: Place roughly under top of vertical tree trunk (5)
Solution: TORSO
Route: Top of tree written verticaliy is T; roughly (as in 'roughly 1000' = '100 or so') is OR SO. T + OR SO = TORSO, which means 'trunk'.


Clue: Happy bishop turned on the light helium (6)
Solution: BLITHE
Route: in chess notation, bishop is represented by B; 'turned on the light' >> LIT; helium >> HE. Thus B + LIT + HE >> BLITHE which means 'happy'.

Clue: Only one insect not left. Explain! (7)
Solution: JUSTIFY
Route: Only >> JUST; one >> 1 >> I; insect >> FLY. ('Not left' indicates that L has to be dropped; so FY) JUST + I + FY >> JUSTIFY which means 'explain'.


Clue: One who does not mingle but is open about mangled clues (7)
Solution: Recluse
Route: About >> Regarding >> RE; 'clues' when mangled gives CLUSE; RE + CLUSE >> RECLUSE, a person 'who does not mingle much'.

Welcome to the fascinating world of evil circus brats, subarctic livers, visceral cut ribs, basic curl rivets, - I mean 'cruciverbalists'.

.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

SPREADING CHEER IN TUY HOA

.
What struck me at first sight at a Tuy Hoa (Pronounced Twee Hwa), the friendly little coastal town we went to for a weekend, was the hundreds of locals who walked barefoot. They were on their way to or back from the wide beach where, on the coarse golden sands, hundreds played football while an equal number swam in the shallow shelf that extended, maybe half a kilometer into the placid sea.


Tuy Hoa has no pretensions the capital of a province should have. It is a non-descript little town between Qui Nhon (Pronounced ‘Key gnon’ – ‘gn’ as in cognac) and Dai Lanh beside a huge river.



The major – perhaps the only – place of tourist interest is the impressive Nhan Cham Temple Tower. You climb to the tower through a small but beautiful botanical garden. The terrace on which the 8th century temple stands commands a panoramic view of the town, the sea and the river.



Presenting a study in contrast to the earthy temple is the neighbouring modern monstrosity called the White Monument. It reminds one of the Opera House in Sydney and has massive concrete flagellae perhaps meant to sync with the waves that form in the sea.

.

We stayed at the brand new KaYa International. As it had just been opened for business, everything was squeaky-clean. The bell-boy, barely out of is teens, who showed us our room either must have taken us to be country bumpkins or was meticulous to do what he was told to. He demonstrated the operation of the electronic key to the room a couple of times and smiled shyly when Bhawani indicated that we had already been exposed to such technology.



That night, we dined at a humble restaurant on the beach. As the Viet Namese have their dinner before half past seven, there were no other customers when we walked in. This was where I have seen the least time being taken for conversion of raw material into ready-to-eat cooked food. The bearer-cum-owner showed us the live crabs and in less than five minutes, the crustaceans were before us doused in ketchup, being cooked in beer right in front of us.



A small group of men who obviously had more drinks than what was good for them came in and sat at a nearby table. It was when they had a round of beer that we came into their radar. They said something among themselves. The youngest among them walked over to with his beer mug, sat with us and tried to converse. He said he worked in the University Library. ‘Cheers!’ he raised his beer mug and insisted on clinking against the ones held by each one of us, irrespective of what – or whether – we were drinking.

.

He had heard of India. Hari said, ‘Un do is the Viet Namese for India’ (‘un’ as in under and ‘do’ ad in dome). Our newly acquired friend was delighted. Up went his mug again, ‘Cheers!’ and one more round of clinking followed. He tried to sustain a conversation using his limited vocabulary.



Hari’s knowledge of Vietnamese would have helped, but our man would not speak anything other than English. He would struggle for words; Bhawani would supply many in succession. He would frown in exasperation when the right word was not forthcoming. And when she supplied the word he was looking for, he’d be relieved and his beer mug would go up again with demands for more clinks.



We had nearly finished and this comical cheers-and-clink routine was tending to get a little boring. So we got up and bade him goodbye. He ambled back, chin up, to his friends who were visibly impressed by his prowess over the language!



As expected, none of the hotel staff spoke or understood English. In the restaurant, it was buffet breakfast. The fare daunted the staunchest carnivore and I settled for salad, fruits, toast and marmalade. I thought I cold have a scrambled egg – just one egg in view of the cholesterol which had to be kept in check. Bhawani said she too would have one. I went to the eggs-to-order counter. The middle-aged chef smiled sweetly and, as if to confirm my requirement, she picked up one egg and showed it to me. I nodded agreement. Three minutes later, I get two fried eggs, sunny side up, on one plate!



As you drive away south towards Buon Me Thuot, you cannot miss the massive Seated Buddha on your left. You can see it from kilometers away. It is not a statue, but a grey rock on the incline of a lush green mountain. Nature created it and worked on it for decades, nay centuries or even millennia to give it the present shape.



Breathtaking views of the sea and the fishing harbours await you further south, as the car cruises along the smooth road that runs through the hilly terrain with the verdant hills on the right and even more verdant valleys to the left.

.

HEHMMHS

.

My son’s house compound in Buon Me Thuot, the capital of Dak Lak Province in the Central Highlands Viet Nam shares a wall with a private playschool. Every morning between six and quarter past, children in red-and-white uniforms are brought by their mothers or fathers on two-wheelers. The tiny tots, hugging their schoolbags and flasks water-bottles romp about. There is cacophony in the neighbourood – cackle of toddlers, last-minute advice of mothers to the kids and the roar of the revving motorbikes as the parents return, leaving them behind.

.
My mind travels back half a century.
.
Thanks to the transfers my father, a central government employee, was subjected to ever so often, the list of schools I studied in is fairly long. They range from one adjudged the best in the district to another with a hoary past, having been founded by the European missionaries.
.
My father had been transferred to Cochin by the time I passed out of Class VIII. His office was in Mattancherry, then part of the bustling Cochin town. (The neighbouring Ernakulam had not yet wrested its prominence from the twin.) We took up residence in Mattancherry and I was admitted to the nearest school. Proximity was the only factor that weighed with middleclass parents in those good old days. Reputation, alumni, lineage, snob value and other features which schools these days pride in apparently had not yet been invented.
.
Thus was it that I joined the school that I passed my SSLC out of. It went by the somewhat longish name Hajee Essa Hajee Moosa Memorial High School. Even the abbreviation HEHMMHS was more than a mouthful.
.
It was certainly no Sherwood or Doon, Mayo or Yercaud. It was not even comparable to the Britto’s in Fort Cochin or The Gujarati Vidyalaya or the Tirumala Devaswom High School closer by. There were many successive years when the school went ‘out for a duck’ in SSLC: no student presented by the school making the grade.
.
The silver jubilee year, 1961, the year I passed out, was exceptional: out of the 52 that appeared, eight passed and one of them in first class. Pass of 16% was the highest in a long time. I recall that on the first working day of the next academic year, we were felicitated like war heroes. In a show of real sportsman spirit, all the 44 classmates too turned up to cheer us!
.
It might have been a poor cousin of other schools and people had general disdain for its alumni, but it was always dear to me. The school was established by a benevolent businessman for the benefit of what is these days described by the media as ‘members of a certain community’. (How na├»ve the people in the media can get! They seem to think that this expression shrouds the ‘certain community’ and its members in anonymity!)
.
However, I have not seen a more cosmopolitan school than HEHMMHS. It had teachers and students who spoke different languages – Kutchi to Konkani to Urdu to Malayalam to Gujarati – and professing diverse religions. It was indeed a melting pot.
.
As the next generation in the founder’s family diversified into movie-making and the then sunrise industry of seafood, they could not devote their attention, time or money for the school. It was but natural that it soon fell into decadence. It was perennially starved of resources. There was no replacement for the teachers who left or retired and there was no material for the class earmarked for craft, sports and games. Predictably, the school did not have a laboratory.
.
However, the teachers made up for all that. We had a devoted bunch of teachers. They went any lengths in their efforts to teach. And they encouraged the wards to do what they were good at. Like, the ones who were athletic were allowed to practice as long as they wanted. They romped home with prizes and championships at inter-school meets. The artistically gifted were encouraged and they went on to pick up prizes at the school your festivals. Though campus politics had taken toots elsewhere, those in HEHMMHS had no time for all that after their sports, music and plays.
.
Mr Namboodiri who taught us Hindi would put the textbook aside and ask Mujib or Rex Joseph to sign a Hindi song. After the liting song from Chaudwin ka Chaand or Mughal-e-Azm, was rendered, he would explain the meaning and the figure of speech and take us through the nuances of the literature. Tell me, how many of you who have studies Hindi through textbooks know the meaning of words like tabassum, aftaab, ikraar, izaazat, nargis or kashish?
.
If the Highland lass in William Wordsworth’s The Solitary Reaper is still before my eyes without my ever having set my eyes upon her, it is because of Mr Venceslaus in his starched white khadi shirt. With him teaching English, school was fun. While explaining the word ‘erase’ (as I ‘erased from memory’), he linked it to the pencil eraser (which we Mallus refer to as ‘rubber’ – little realizing that to most people in this world, it is a contraceptive device). When he spelt it for us – aar-you-ebb-ebb-ee-aar – we knew something was wrong, but did not know what exactly it was.
.
And there was the stern and portly Mr Joseph who taught us History and whose cane taught us discipline, and Mr Sadanandan who used to recite Malayalam poems so mellifluously that teachers in the neighbouring classes would pause to listen. If anyone can draw a perfect circle freehand on the backboard, it would be our Mathematics teacher Mr Govindankutty Menon. Our reticent Headmaster Mr Mohamed Ali (Mammalikka to the promoter ad hence to everybody else) led the great team.
.
On Fridays, the lunch recess was from 12:30 to 2:30 (instead of the sual 1:00 to 2:00) so that those belonging to a ‘certain community’ could offer their prayers.
.
However, the attendance in the senior classes in the school would to trickle to single digits on Friday afternoons because of a neighbouring institution which had an organic link with HEHMMHS: the Star Theatre. It was on Fridays that the movie shown in the previous week would make way for a new one. Many would go for the movie and the others, confident that given the thin attendance, it would be only revision in Physics and Biology that would take place in the post-lunch session, would go home too.
.
That brings us to Mrs Hallegua, our Biology Physics teacher. As she could not cover the syllabus because of the mandatory revision on Friday afternoons, she would hold extra classes on Saturdays (‘At 10.30, after the Church, please’). She could hardly move, or even breathe, because she was so obese. It always baffled us how the rickshaw-puller, half her weight, would haul her from her Jew Town home to the Synagogue, thence to the school and back.
.
Whenever I see schoolchildren in smart uniforms trooping out of buses clutching schoolbags and water-bottles, I am reminded of those days in HEHMMHS which made me what I am.