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Some assignments prove more enjoyable than others. And one such was Mysore Paints and Varnishes — India’s sole supplier of indelible election ink since 1962. Today, the PSU helps the smooth functioning of democracy in more than 30 countries by supplying the same globally.

A tour of its premises proved absolutely delightful and meeting a long time source Mysore Paints GM C Harakumar. During the chaotic days of demonetisation, when the government realised that the same set of people were standing in line to deposit money for others, funelling in a steady stream of black money — some brilliant brain (sarcastic of course) decided they’d paint bank account holders with indelible ink to prevent revisits by depositors of demonetised currency notes.

Banks stunned by everyday bringing with it a new set of dozen circulars – took this in their stride and placed large orders for indelible ink with Mysore Paints; sources put it at nearly 2 million phials. Bank officials turned to painting everyone’s fingernails with ink only to find the government reversing its stand in three days; making their decision to buy ink irrelevant. Left with stocks of now unusable indelible ink, banks had to write off their purchase as losses even as Mysore Paints made a windfall in profit.

And election after election, of course sees Indians proudly taking to social media with selfies of their inked finger — courtesy Mysore Paints and Varnishes. I got to see the legendery phials of indelible ink. But wasn’t allowed photographs. The forumla of the ink is a secret guarded and passed on for decades from one government official to another.

I met with Mysore Paints current MD Chandrashekhar Doddamani, who allowed me to tour the premises. The campus was set up in 1937 by the then Maharaja of Mysore province Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar to provide occupation to locals.

Started as Mysore Lac & Paint Works, the unit’s first product was lac, sourced from the teeming forests near Mysuru and Nagerhole. Workers back then would bring lac — an insect resin found on host trees like flame-of-the-forest (Dhak trees), Jujube trees, Kusum trees — from the forests to the factory for processing. Red lac used as sealing wax would be used to seal the factory premises every night — and also used to guard ballet boxes in the days of paper voting or by India Post for the government’s top secrets.

But with the passage of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, by Indira Gandhi, the company lost its access to the nearby forests. With forest lac struck off its lists as a product, Mysore Lac & Paint Works renamed itself as Mysore Paints and Varnish.

I loved the red brick buildings on the premises – hailings from the 1930s and in good condition. Like most heritage buildings, the walls are not cemented but held in place with a mixture of lime, clay, egg white and jaggery.

Another thing that interested me was many of the machines were from the pre-Independence era and still in working condition. Was particularly taken up with a paste mixer that bore the legend `Torrance & Sons Ltd, Bitton Bristol.’ I read up on the history of the British company (in existence since 1677) and the firm after many mergers continues to produce engineering machinery. Felt to musing how the 1-tonne weighing paste grinder must have been shipped in – the voyage of 4,700 miles taking a month or more — all thanks to the far-sighted initiatives of Chamraja Wodeyar; whose busts and paintings fill up every nook and cranny.

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In Memory: First Posted on August 1, 2018

As DMK chief M Karunanidhi is in hospital, I’d like to remember the young idealist he once was. Long before he had a large and ever growing family with ever growing business interests, he was an idealist. And his views on social inequalities and need for an inclusive society can be seen in the dialogues of many films like Parasakthi. As a mature politician he was an opportunist and could when it suited him turn a blind eye to the communal or castiest leanings of his party members or alliance parties.
At his heart, however, he never believed in the notion of caste and was the most liberal of fathers– his children, neices and nephews have married into a wide spectrum of castes. And not once in his public speeches has he ever espoused any right-wing idea of racial superiority- he’s always stood for the idea that all men are born equal.

Now a little explanation about the picture. The person giving the speech is my great-grandfather MLA N Devadasan – the venue: the Tirunelveli Bar Association and the purpose: to hear the views of the then fiery young man Karunanidhi.

Now, there is a poignancy to this picture — as my grandfather N Devadasan was a Pariyar from the Dalit community. He was a first generation learner, who went onto get gold medals while pursuing his masters in political science from Madras University. He went onto pursue law and eventually became a public prosecutor. And at a time when the majority of the lawyers at the Tirunelveli Bar Association were upper-caste Hindus, he’d earned everyone’s goodwill and respect that he a Christian Dalit kept repeatedly getting voted to the post of president at the bar. And in his capacity as a bar association president and in his capacity as a DK member he was welcoming Karunanidhi to give his speech.

And I know I might face some flak from my family for putting it out there that we have Dalit roots. But I think not telling the truth about my great-grandfather would be undermining his achievements. Imagine in caste-conscious violent Tirunelveli to battle prejudice every day; and not let that undermine your worth- but go onto reach your maximum potential in terms of education, career growth and social empacipation.

It is to my regret that I never learnt about my Dalit origins till I turned 30. I always knew about the other castes my ancestors hailed from — Reddys, Namboodaris, Nadars, Devars– as a child. But this important nugget to who I was – was wiped out in my urban middle-class upbringing. How does one measure how far you’ve progressed, if you’ve not taken note of your origin? My great-grandfather married Annamuthu patti from the sambhavar community, also classified as SC. And in the 7th century, the sambhavarayars were petty kings of ancient Thondaimandalam in TN; whom conquering armies from North made captives and slaves. Which is why even today in Tamil there is a proverb: “நீ என்ன பெரிய சாம்பவனா ??” (Meaning: You are getting too big for your boots. Do you think you are a sambhavan (king)?). Being ashamed of one’s origins I feel comes from ignorance and a lack of belief in the idea – that all men are equal.

Now my great grandfather despite being a Dalit, saw to it that’s his kids’ school certificates said OC not SC. What it means is – I as an OC candidate competed with FC category and had no benefits from reservation in schooling or college. This was because of his belief that reservation should benefit the deserving and poorest members of his community. To that end he also built a hostel for Dalit students in Tirunelveli. Back in those days — hotels, hostels and even PGs had signboards “Brahmins only” (reminiscent of “Indians and dogs not allowed” or “no Jews or dogs” – a signage that symbolised how everyone practised bigotry from whatever stature of life they could.)

Knowledge of my great-grandfather’s past helped me solve the riddle of why Periyar was more keen on abolition of caste than driving the Brits out. It was the Brits with their desire for a clerical and subservient set of people to help expand their colonial interests– who opened the doorways of education for many oppressed people. And Karunanidhi knew all of this and the need for social equality. His speech went spectacularly well; his eloquence, his erudition, his passion ensured him thundering applause. After the speech, he came to my great-grandfather’s house for dinner. He relished the non-vegetarian feast spread out for him and then discussed literature till the wee hours of the morning. My great-grandfather felt back then itself — that the flawed yet charismatic Karunanidhi had the seeds of greatness in him and would go places! #karunanidhi#mk #mkarunanidhi #DMK #Dalitfreedom#dalitempacipation

DMK_MLA_N Devadasan

 

Ever since I read “Bangalore: Swinging in the 70s” by cartoonist and brilliant recounter Paul Fernandes, I’ve been wanting to visit the places mentioned in the book like the Bangalore Turf Club, Bangalore Palace, Oorgaum House (which gets an entire chapter devoted to its memories in his friend Peter Colaco’s book “Bangalore; A century of tales from City & Cantonment) and of course Taj West End.

So I finally got to go to the 130-year-old hotel today…And to quote Paul Fernandes, “People of discrimination and breeding would agree that the Bangalore of the 60s and 70s was “A Temple to Finer Things,” and its inner sanctum was the West End.”

“West End raised the bar to impossible heights; next to it all; all other hotels seemed mere pretenders to the throne. On entering these gates to paradise, you would walk into a rarefied atmosphere and be transported back to a more gracious time. Its twenty acre campus, in the very heart of the city, formed a compact cosmos that exemplified all that was good about Bangalore. It has a forest of lush foliage, green avenues, gracious walkways, fountains, manicured lawns and elegant accommodation filled with exquisite furniture. Even the bird calls heard at West End seemed more melodious than those heard elsewhere.”

Though the one missing factor was I hadn’t spent my whole day at the races next door. Paul Fernandes in his reminiscences talks of how hardened betters, race bookies, trainers, jockeys and horse owners would recoup the day’s losses or winnings at the Banglore Turf Club with generous in-roads at the bar. Started by one Ms Bronson in 1887, the West End was initially an exclusive (read-white only) boarding place for the stiff-necked British. After the Spencers bought it, it became a place for Brit civil servants, Indian royalty and the heavily-loaded. Apparently, the West End has also played host to quite a few celebrities like Prince Charles, actress Devika Rani and the man — who most opposed the idea of a free India – British PM Winston Churchill.

I wished sauntering in five-star hotels was a permitted hobby like jaywalking on Churchstreet. I was like Dorothy-following the yellow-brick road of old black-and-white photographs on the hotel’s halls; only to find myself being stopped every 10 metres by friendly hotel staff who kept asking if I was wanting to find the conference room or coffee shop. I gave it up after a point as idle-curiosity isn’t really a doable thing in a place of commerce. #WestEnd #TajWestEnd#PaulFernandes

Was pleasantly surprised to find the Canara Bank headquarters in Bangalore chalk-full of history and memorabilia on the bank. As soon as you step into the head office on Jayachamaraja Road what greets you is a replica of their very first branch in Mangalore.

Now known as the founder’s branch, this building was acquired by the bank in 1906 by the bank’s founder Ammembal Subba Rao Pai. One of the leading philanthropists in the region, he was apparently a lawyer by profession and built the Canara Girls High School in Kodialbali, Mangalore (still functioning as on date). Being concerned about the exorbitant rates charged by money lenders to poor people he started this as a fund, which later morphed into Canara Bank.

And next to the replica of the founder’s branch is a large depiction of how bank managers did business a century ago. Apparently, the office routine back then was to hail a bullock cart or tonga, get in and keep hopping smartly in and out of it – as one provided door-to-door service by collecting deposits and handing out monthly interests’ accrued to the bank’s valued customers in Mangalore.

The bank’s boardroom also depicts this transition of the bank from the bullock cart era to the Candi branch robot era. I unfortunately did not get to see that (something to look forward to during my next visit).

And to add to the place’s charm, the bank has also created a vertical garden in the centre of the building. Every night, the headquarters’ is lit up in blue and yellow flash lights, complementing the colours of their logo. I unfortunately didn’t get to witness that too. #CanaraBank #Charm #history

Manathakkali

Growing today in the balcony, the sight of these berries can take me back to my misspent or maybe well-spent childhood. The berries are absolutely scrumpicilicious; more tangy than sweet and used to grow in large clumps in Vandalur. We children used to eat them whole and unwashed, while some of our enterprising neighbours would pick the berries, soak them in curd and dry them out in the sun for “manathakalli vathal.” Also used to make every bite flavourful, when used in vatha kulzahmbu.
Its been many years since I ate mannathakalli, and it made me hanker after other childhood favourites, which I find difficult to source in urban Bangalore like — water chestnuts, gorkapulli, berrica, roasted bamboo shoots, lotus roots.#berries #mannathakalli

 

 

Midway through their partnership, Husky and Maximus realised that while their paws were inadequate to opening my fridge door, Indra (all of 2 years) was capable of getting the door open and even getting down the vessel, filled with beef broth and bones. And I’d find a week’s store of meat gone within the half hour it had taken me to get the laundry done. Their raids on the fridge also extended to eggs, cheese, butter, chocolates and anything else they found was within Indra’s reach. And no amount of berating my toddler, made her realise the iniquities of her action on a slender household budget. I soon took to locking the fridge.

But, then while sweeping the house I found they’d got around that too. Under her crib, I found moldy bits of banana, apple, and some egg yolk crumbled beyond doggy reach. The next time I gave babyma her dinner, I realised their technique. They’d just sit in front of her mouth-drooling, eyes pleading and she’d quietly fish out the boiled eggs, cheese bits from her meal and drop it through the bars of her crib. And I’d have been ignorant of smarty pants way of finishing off her dinner, had it not been for the telltale bits of broccoli, apple — that the dogs had left untouched. #Flashback #cutiepies

It was easier for me to write about sexual abuse when I was 11-year-old; as a minor I was not to blame, I had no agency. But would the same empathy be extended to the 18-year-old who faced sexual assault or the 27-year-old, who faced domestic violence? I don’t know. But I want to tell my tale, only as a cautionary tale. For someone to leave before they end up dead.

 

I can still remember my sister-in-law, steadfast in her love for her brother, telling the policeman, “She must have provoked him. It’s her fault.” I was silent, I let my bleeding forehead, my injured arm, my bruises tell my story. The habit of silence I’d inherited from childhood was too deeply ingrained; my police complaint of one A4 sheet was brief in its description of 14 months of unrelenting physical and mental abuse.

Also, in cases of sexual assault when its the boyfriend or husband, the case becomes even more complicated. The person time and again isn’t believed. Or if believed, asked why did they let it go on for so long? Why did they stay? Why did they not complain earlier? Why did they not leave? Assault from a stranger is easier to process than assault from someone trusted — easier for the victim and the family to condemn an unknown stranger, a faceless, voiceless evil entity. But a friend? Then we’ve opened a Pandora’s box. It would be dragging everyone’s name through mud, rupture of family ties and forcing people to take sides – yours or his.

I faced that dilemma, when my childhood friend of nearly 16 years visited my house that summer vacation, I was recovering. If you’ve read the first part of what I wrote, at 18 I’d had surgery to get a tumour removed from my left breast. The left side of my chest was swathed in bandages – glued onto the skin — to prevent possible rupture of the stitches. Wearing a bra felt like a torture exercise. I was wearing a brown pyjama with red stripes and had overslept when the bell rang.

He had come over as his dad promised my parents a good price for our Bajaj Kawasaki. Now, my friend was one of those tall, good-looking chaps, who frequented the gym; and just had the right amount of muscle beneath his t-shirt and half-buttoned formal shirt. I hadn’t seen him in months, but I felt butterflies in my stomach as he impishly grinned at me; his dimples making one want to reach out and pat his cheeks. But the code was too strong within me – so we continued talking as usual. The code was I was a Christian and he was a Hindu; and we knew it was out of question for us to date; we lived in the shadow of our family’s value systems.

But, once he got the vehicle details, he still hovered around. Obviously reluctant to go, he asked for a glass of water to prolong the visit. He said it was seeing me without my school uniform. I went to the kitchen only to find he had followed me. And as he drew closer, it struck me that I was 18 and never had my first kiss. All my friends had experienced that by age 16. And he moved closer and it felt sweet, tender and magical. It was like what the books and Disney movies had promised.

But then it seemed to go on and he was touching my waist – and now I started getting uncomfortable. As I tried to break free, he got more forceful. Then he encircled and pinned my hands down and I started getting annoyed. I asked him what the hell he was playing it. He said “Please, I only want to see you. I won’t hurt you I promise.” I was hissing back furiously, “You take your hands off. I’ll tell your dad and you’ll get beaten black and blue.” And somehow — just like the first code, another code was not to make noise — me screaming and all the neighbours landing up when we were in a compromising position given our parents’ standing in the locality– was something instinctively we knew we had to avoid. So I kept hissing furiously back at him, while he kept pleading with me.

And then panic and terror truly hit. As he swiftly unbuttoned my pyjama top and started unhooking my bra, for the first time I realised how strong he was. I couldn’t move an inch; my hands were held fast beneath me with just his right hand; while both my legs were pinioned down on the sofa with just his left knee. Now the tears started, I was alternatively pleading and muttering threats and dire repercussions. The minutes kept ticking by. But he wasn’t touching me, true to his promise he was just looking at me topless, one half of my chest bandaged. When he made a move towards unknotting my pyjama bottom, I noticed the scar on his forehead, it was when he had hit his head on the monkey bars as a 5-year-old. And then anger coursed through my body — that this snotty-nosed kid, whom I had seen from kindergarten, who couldn’t say his A,B,Cs right, who cribbed from me and copied my answer sheets during exams — should be terrorising me. Anger gave clarity, and with one twist, I’d jerked my knee into his groin, and my left hand snaked out caught the table lamp next to the sofa and brought it crashing down on his head. He crumpled.

I swiftly dressed up. Drank a glass of water and turned around to see he was bleeding profusely and unconscious. “Oh, holy mother of God. I had killed the boy.” I jerked out the ice tray from the fridge and tried to staunch the bleeding. It just wouldn’t stop. There was blood everywhere, on the sofa, on the floor, on his clothes, on the ice tray. I dumped all the ice on a tea towel and held it up against his head. It didn’t stop the bleeding and his face was acquiring a death-like pallor. I put my ear to his chest and my fingers to his nose – his heart was still beating and his breath was warming my fingers.

The minutes crawled by, a quarter of an hour passed before he groggily woke up. I instructed him to keep the motley ice pack against his head and went upstairs to change into a salwar kameez to take him to the hospital. When I went down, I realised he couldn’t walk without help, his head was swimming and he found my help inadequate. We barely made it past a few steps; he was too heavy for me and I lowered him back onto the sofa. He whispered for me to call for another classmate. I called from the landline. It seemed till eternity, before he arrived on a bike. I hissed at the fool to get an auto. We got him into one and I hoped none of my neighbours were watching behind their lace-curtained windows. I swiftly, cleaned, scrubbed and wiped out every trace of blood.

He did survive, but had to miss two weeks of college. For months after that, I had nightmares of blood, blood everywhere, blood soaking my clothes; and in the nightmares he was dead, dead beyond revival — the sickly-sweet odour of his imagined blood – making me wake up in a sweat.

Likewise, the domestic violence I faced with Indra’s father is something I find very difficult to talk about. I should have walked out the first time he hit me. I didn’t. I was supposed to be a feminist. What was wrong with me?

I was crippled with inaction.

For starters, are you stupid? If the guy was hitting you and hitting you when you were pregnant, are you a moron not to have left? Well, I can only say it is gradual. The process of alienating you from your friends and family; the process of constantly humiliating you, belittling you, making you doubt your own senses; the process of engaging in outrageous behaviour to ensure your instant and immediate obedience to their bizarre wishes; the process of trying to cut off your financial ties so that you are entirely at their mercy; at their whimsical fancies and caprices.

It would be so gradual and steady their cutting off all your emotional anchors and support systems – that you might not even notice it till you are left high and dry and all alone. And as emotional vampires — your violent and abusive partner — would be able to sense out your deepest and darkest fears and use them to club you on the head; club you back into obedience. In my case, my deepest fear was the thought of a second divorce; how it would affect my family; how much it would hurt them. And he used that as the whip to hold me fast to my place.

Some of their simplest tricks to alienate you – are when they start huge fights, land up drunk or in someway embarass and humiliate visitors — so that you never make the mistake again of inviting friends and family to your home. Their way of getting access to your financials would be to demand your bank account details; when you don’t, then accuse you of not trusting them; berate you and pile abuse till you finally give in.

So then why did I stay? I did not entirely hate him. There were parts of me that empathised with him; that wished I could wipe out all his years of abuse. He’d been anally raped as a 7-year-old by three of his father’s friends at their pigeon loft. Forced to perform oral sex as startled pigeons fluttered around him. His parents — whom he also acccused of neglect, physical and mental abuse– noticed nothing wrong, when he came back tear-stained, with torn shorts and a lifelong dislike for curd rice (given its mental associations for him).

It would take the birth of Indra – before the realisation dawned on me that he was beyond any help I would render him. He needed professional help and I started viewing him as a rabid dog — one can see its suffering and empathise, but also realise the prudence of staying away for one’s own safety.

Months of nastiness followed, pure and mean nastiness. I filed for custody and divorce. Won both. And miraculously won custody with no visitation rights. But some trace of the human being he had the possibility of becoming, surfaced on the last day of court. To my surprise, he told the judge, “I know Rachel will take care of my daughter. I think it is better the child remains with her.”

And that’s when I realised there are greys to every relationship; nothing is in black and white. No one is wholly bad. But that shouldn’t make anyone stay on in an abusive relationship – in the perennial hope that their finer instincts will surface. That they will magically morph back into the person they fell in love with. Neat endings happen only in movies. In real life, I’d urge at the first instance of violence, just pack up and leave. As it will only get harder as the days, weeks, months lapse and you turn into a weaker version of yourself. As they suck out more of your life blood. Just leave, while you can!   #domesticviolence #assault #WhenIwas11