Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tales out of the ISRO story

Based on the book-   ISRO- A personal history   by R.Aravamudan with Gita Aravamuda

On 28th September, 2014, Mangalyan , India`s first home grown mission to Mars was a spectacular success. No other Mars Mission had succeeded in its very first attempt. ISRO had developed all the technology required for the launch from scratch. It was undoubtedly a remarkable achievement for the Team of scientists at ISRO
Thirty five years earlier it was a different story. On 10th August, 1979, the launch of SLV 3, the first home grown launch vehicle of ISRO went out of control and splashed into the Bay of Bengal, about 5 minutes after takeoff. `The very first attempt to launch a satellite launch vehicle (SLVs) by ISRO was a failure` reported Abdul Kalam who was in charge of the project. He was disappointed but was not disheartened. He called it a `Partial success`. Abdul Kalam and Aravamudan, `Dan` to his friends in ISRO, were colleagues right from the inception of the small Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), established by the visionary Vikram Sarabhai  in mid Sixtees, at Thumba,  near Trivandrum in Kerala. TERLS is where the story of India`s space odyssey began.
In the book,  `ISRO – A personal History`,  Aravamudan (Dan) narrates a gripping story of the people who built ISRO and how they did it, from the rocket pioneers who laid the foundation to the savvy young engineers who keep Indian Spaceship flying today. It is the tale of an organization that defied international bans and embargos, worked with laughably meager resources, evolved its own technology and grew into a major space power. Today, ISRO creates, builds and launches gigantic rockets which carry the complex spacecraft that form the neural network not just of our own country but of other countries too.`
 This is a made- in -India story like no other told by a man who had a ringside view of the happenings at India`s space programme from the first year to this day. After graduating  with a First Rank from the Madras Institute of Technology Ramabadran Aravamudhan had been directly recruited into DAE where he spent  two years before quitting a secure  job to join Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, in his visionary project to take India into space. He is an award winning senior scientist who had served as the director of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota and of the ISO Satellite Centre, Bangalore.
What is fascinating about the book is the interesting anecdotes that the author recalls, the human side of the growth story which makes the book endearing:


While in USA attending a training programme in 1963 at NASA, the entire group of young Indian trainees including Dan & Abdul Kalam who were all vegetarians got into strange situations because of their staunch vegetarianism. One day when they were desperately looking for a home based café which will satisfy their palate, they stumbled upon a café run by an old lady.  While the old lady did not understand their request, she allowed the use of her kitchen by the group to cook whatever they wanted using the ingredients available with her. The group walked into her little kitchen and started piling everything vegetarian that they could find into a baking dish. Soon they had rice ,vegetables, baked beans, onions, garlic and a few green peppers all mixed up with a generous helping of cheese on top and  popped the dish into the oven,. `The hotpotch dish turned out to be Manna to our deadened taste buds` says Dan. The old lady called it the `Thing`. The dish became a local hit and the old lady started serving the `Indian Thing` to her other customers also!

 `Doppler Velocity and Positioning System (DOVAP), a large container like  long trailer built by NASA came to India as a part of the initial collaborative agreement with NASA, in 1964. Transporting the equipment from Madras harbor by road to Trivandrum, a distance of 800kms, posed a big challenge at a time when container trailers were a rarity in India and there were no good roads to transport such big equipment. Since Dan was from Madras and familiar with the equipment he was sent to Madras to get the job done. With some help from his father, he found a contractor who agreed to take on the assignment.
`The DOVAP had to pass on the highway in front of my father`s house in Chrompet, in Chennai. On D-Day, all my brothers and sisters, their friends and other extended family members gathered to watch the vehicle as it rolled majestically by. All along the route, the local police had to be kept informed as it had created considerable excitement among people gathered along the way who  mistakenly thought it was a giant rocket being transported.
                                                                              ***************
By the mid-1960s space scientists from all over the world started coming to conduct experiments with sounding rockets at Thumba. Those were simple times when there was an extraordinary amount of goodwill amongst the international community of scientists. Russia (or the USSR as it was known then) contributed a military helicopter for range safety and a computer called Minsk- the only computer TERL had those days.
Dan had an interesting experience with the Russian chopper. Dan who was a fairly good photographer with his  Yashica camera was given the responsibility to fly over the range in the helicopter and take some pictures which were to be pieced together to form a survey map of the TERLS area. Abdul Kalam, Dan`s lodge mate who also had a good camera accompanied Dan on the Chopper. Though it was an exciting ride, the photos that they took proved to be totally useless in the absence of zoom lenses. The Team had to wait for several more years before they could get their range properly mapped.
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The launch of the first sounding rocket from Thumba on 21, November 1963 marked the official beginning of the Indian space programme . But it was the formal dedication of TERLS to the UN on 2nd February, 1968  that gave the real impetus to developmental activities. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India visited Thumba to dedicate TERLS to the U.N. which had formally sponsored TERLS as international scientific facility open to all its members. ` As I was earnestly explaining telemetry to her as a part of my assignment that day, I was disconcerted to see Mrs. Gandhi`s gaze fixed steadily on the top of my head. Why was she looking at the top of my head instead of listening to me? As soon as I finished she asked me her first question, “Did NASA measure your height before building this trailer?” Seeing my stunned look she burst out laughing. I am 6 feet 2 inches tall, and my head was brushing the top of the trailer which had a low ceiling. While I smiled bashfully, I wondered whether she had actually listened to any of my technical explanations.`
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When Sarabhai took over DAE after the untimely death of Homi  Bhabha in 1966, the tempo of space research in India gained tremendous momentum. Sarabhai`s famous `Profile for the Decade 1970 to 80 for the DAE`, the space research programme came out in 1970. This clearly spelled out the need for indigenous capability to make our own launch vehicles and satellites and to launch them from our own soil by the mid -1970s. The exciting new plans for the development of satellites & satellite launches required an East facing site.  The Team in charge of finding the site zeroed in on an island off southern coast of Andhra. The new site, Sriharikota, was about 100kms north of Madras city. Simultaneously, under instructions from Sarabhai, efforts to identify the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) configuration  was also on . Among the alternatives suggested the third one was selected and designed as `SLV-3`. This was an all -solid propellant four stage rocket capable of orbiting 30 to 40 kg satellites into 400km circular orbit. It was around this time that Indian Space Research Programme (ISRO) was formally notified under the DAE.
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In 1969, the Americans landed on the moon at a time when TERL team was still launching  sounding rockets. Little did they know then, that one day they themselves would launch spacecraft to the moon  and to Mars and beyond; then they heard that a piece of moon rock was coming to Thumba in a glass case. It was the size of walnut. It was put up in the foyer of SSTC on top of Veli Hills. A programme was planned for a formal inauguration of the exhibition. While the team thought that the event will be of interest to only employees of TERL, a large local  crowd turned up for the event stirred by announcement of moon rock by local newspapers. It became a law and order problem. Local police and civil authorities had to be called in to help control the crowd.
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Kalam and Dan had become close friends as they were the only bachelors from the original group. In 1970 Dan got married to Gita, a young journalist. Kalam and other friends  of Dan hosted a dinner for her at Mascot hotel. On his first visit to Trivandrum after Dan got married, Dr.Sarabhai threw a party for some visiting dignitaries and Gita was introduced to him.  In typical Sarabhai style he asked her all about herself and what she wrote, ` May be you can also become part of our programme in some way` he said. Gita came away glowing and feeling very special. Trivandrum offered Gita excellent writing opportunities. Gita, driving around the narrow roads of Trivandrum was a source of great amazement and amusement to the locals who would exclaim,` Ayyo. Sthree car Otikinnu`
There was an unforgettable episode for Gita when Kalam came to her rescue at the first ever launch she witnessed in Thumba. Dan had dropped Gita off at control centre where wives of two other colleagues were also present. There were some people watching from the beach as well.  Dan was in his tracking station. However due to some problem the rocket didn`t take off.  Dan rushed from his tracking station to the launch pad and became immersed in trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Meanwhile, Gita soon found herself all alone on the terrace of the control centre as the other husbands had collected their wives. As the security person was waiting for her to go out of the centre so that he could lock the door, she went out to the beautiful beach and realized that she was in a totally deserted place not knowing where to go. Just then a jeep drove and Kalam hopped out.
`What are you doing here all alone?’ he asked. When he heard her story he burst out laughing `Trust my buddy to forget he got married. He must have buried his head in the rocket. Come, let us go find him` They did find him with his hand and not his head inside the rocket to fix the problem! 
                                                                       **********************
Dan describes Dr.Sarabhai as a handsome man, a brilliant and charismatic person with a fantastic memory. He never bothered about the usual social formalities and was easily approachable. He always wore white khadi kurta pyjamas paired with well-worn Kolhapuri chappals. He never carried a wallet and always turned to his PA or some other aide, if he needed money.  Only on very special occasions one could see him dressed in a formal dark brown bandhgala coat worn over pants. Inspired by Dr.Sarabhai even the scientists at ISRO took to casual bush shirts and pants. He had the gift of making each person feel very important and wanted. He listened to whatever proposals were presented to him with total attention and encouraged the scientists to experiment.
During one of his visits to Thumba, on 29th December, 1971 Sarabhai died of a cardiac arrest in the hotel room where he was staying. The entire young team of scientists was devastated. Next morning Dan walked into the room where the body was lying. Dan says, ` I stood there for a few moments mourning my mentor, I could almost imagine him jumping up and saying, `Come on, Dan, there is work to be done. Now what do you have for me this time?”; Sarabhai  was in his late forties when he died. Government decided to appoint Professor Satish Dhawan with experience and track record to succeed Sarabhai.
                                                                           ************************
While Sarabhai`s style of management was that of a patriarch dealing with a small well-knit family, with no formal systems in place, Dhawan`s style of management was quite businesslike. He followed the HQ type of structure by hiring management educated and experienced young men as shadow teams. They would function from the HQ and make a technical and budgetary analysis of each programme. The change in style was difficult for the original team to deal with at first. Soon they realized that this kind of change was inevitable given the increasing complexity of the projects and the size of the budgets involved. Dhawan was very particular that local industry and academia should be associated with the programmes. So he inducted organizations like HAL, HMT and BEL and institutions like IISc and government research laboratories to partner ISRO.  Under the Respond programme small grants were given to various research organizations to undertake specific projects for space research. Though ISRO as an entity was formed just before the passing away of Sarabhai, the ISRO we know today began to take shape only after Dhawan took charge. Under him four distinct geographical areas emerged: Trivandrum, Bangalore, Sriharikota and Ahmedabad.
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Dan led the team that developed the `C` band tracking radar installed in Sriharikota. This radar was the first indigenously built one in the country. TIFR, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and Electronic Corporation of India Limited ( ECIL) partnered with the ISRO team for this project. By 1979 the radar facility at SHAR, at Sriharikota, was ready, well in time for the first experimental launch of country`s first indigenous launch vehicle, SLV-3. Kalam was in charge of the launch. After the failure of the first effort, a second attempt was made.
Dan says, ` The second launch effort also had its moment of nail-biting suspense. A few moments prior to take-off the command was given to detach the umbilical cable from the rocket. However the remote controlled cable just refused to come off. For a few moments no one knew what to do. Obviously the launch could not take place with a stuck cable. The savior of the day was a technician named Bapiah. He volunteered to climb up the launch tower and manually coax the cable off. The tower was around 60ft high. We had no other option but to let him try with the safety officials turning their back for the short while. Bapiah quickly climbed the tower and gave the cable a hefty kick and it mercifully came off. The rest of course is history. And so,  on 18th July, 1980 almost seventeen years after the first foreign Nike-Apache sounding rocket was launched from TERLS, a made-in-India rocket was  launched from Indian soil, injected an Indian made satellite into a 300km by 900km orbit.  It was an ecstatic moment. Kalam was hoisted on the shoulders by his colleagues. In Trivandrum we were all welcomed as heroes when we stepped off the plane. My little sons were thrilled. In their school the SLV had been dubbed as Sea Loving Vehicle. And now their father`s organization had been vindicated`.
Significantly out of the 1200 scientists and engineers who worked on the SLV 3 project, hardly a handful had had foreign education. Our homegrown engineers were the ones who built our first satellite launch vehicle.
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After the successful second flight of SLV-3, Kalam had moved out of the project to join the Defence Research and Development Organization ( DRDO) and take up the challenge of developing ballistic missiles for the Defense services. By 1984 four SLV 3 launches had taken place and ISRO was now ready to focus its full attention on the development of the ASLV (Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle) project. By 1987 all the ASLV subsystems were ready, tested and validated, and moved to SHAR in Sriharkota. When the launch of the first vehicle under ASLV programme failed, a Failure Analysis Committee was appointed with Dan as the Chairman. It was named `Aravamudhan Committee`. In spite of the painstaking analysis and the series of recommendations made by the committee, the second ASLV flight on 13th July, 1988 also failed, breaking up spectacularly in mid air leaving the entire Team devastated. By the time ASLV vehicle was assembled on the launch tower for the third time in 1992, Dan had taken charge of SHAR. ASLV-D3 was launched on 20th May, 1992 almost three years after he  took over the project. The mission was a perfect success. Dan says, ` There were many who questioned the need for developing ASLV, which by itself had no application. But in my opinion ASLV provided ISRO with invaluable experience in rocket technology. It was a low- cost precursor to the more important and expensive Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which became the workhorse of ISRO, capable of launching remote sensing satellites of more than 1 tonne class into polar orbits. Most importantly the teams learned that rocketry is unforgiving and called for a totally disciplined approach to ensure quality and reliability.`
                                                                    *********************
When Dan became the director of SHAR in October, 1989, his family moved with him to Sriharikota. By then his elder son had already left for Bangalore to join an engineering college. His younger son joined the SHAR central school. Dan says, `SHAR was a total contrast to Trivandrum. It was home to a rather insular space community that lived in peaceful isolation far from the madding crowd. Surrounded by Pulicate lake, the Bay of Bengal and Buckingham Canal, Sriharikota was an island with a 50km coastline and area of about 44,000 acres. There were thousands of employees, temporary and permanent living in the housing colonies. And I was the Big Boss. My friends and colleagues dubbed me the `Sultan of SHAR`, although I must confess I sometimes felt more like the Count of Monte Cristo imprisoned in an island.`
Sriharikota had a population exceeding 10,000 and hence all the civic amenities had to be provided by ISRO. As the director in charge running the township, in addition to his professional responsibilities Dan also felt like a municipal chairman. The first experimental launch of PSLV happened on 20th September, 1993 when Dan was still the director of SHAR. U.R.Rao was the then ISRO chairman and Madhavan Nair was mission director. While all the initial events which were visible seemed to have taken at the right time up to the second stage, the vehicle suddenly went into dramatic uncontrolled angular rotation. The first launch of PSLV vehicle had failed.
It took more than a year for ISRO to recover from the failure of the first launch. In the interim period Dan moved to Bangalore as the director of the ISRO Satellite Centre ( ISAC) and Kasturirangan took over as the chairman of ISRO from U.R.Rao. Kasturirangan turned out to be a lucky mascot for ISRO, his first mission as ISRO chairman was a thumping success. Madhavan Nair, the PSLV project director, was the man of the hour. The launch was an example of perfect coordination between a variety of agencies in India and abroad focusing on a single objective. Our own home grown PSLV became one of the most reliable rockets in its category in the world, earning global admiration. Nations vied with one another to get their remote sensing satellites launched by it; and ISRO never looked back
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The next ambitious rocket that ISRO was to launch was the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle ( GSLV) which revolved around the development of a cryogenic upper stage and ISRO had to struggle hard against all kinds of political and other stumbling blocks erected by USA and Russia, before the launch became a reality on 28th March,2001. By this time Dan had retired after spending 35 long years with the country`s Space programme and was not at a console but seated in the VIP gallery along with some of his senior colleagues. Dan says, `I had grown with ISRO from the days when it was a mere idea in a visionary`s mind through its phenomenal transformation in more than half a century into the veritable giant it has become today. Although I formally retired from ISRO in 1997, my close, almost umbilical connection with organization can never be severed. I still sit in on important reviews and meetings and continue to keep track of all the developments; we are nowhere near the end of the story. ISRO has many more exciting milestones to cross in the years to come`
  (The book published in 2017 by Harper Collins is co-authored by Gita Aravamudan, Aravamudan`s wife and a well known journalist. Edited version of this article appeared in Madras Musings issue dt April 16-30,2018)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Don`t go for walk on a cycle!



`Commuters may soon be able to hire bicycles from more metro stations to get to the neighbor hoods with Chennai Metro Rail Ltd ( CMRL)` says a news item. While the effort of CMRL is aimed at providing eco friendly and economical transport facility , a similar facility of hiring the bicycles by the hour available at the ` Car Free Sundays` at the Besse ( Besant Nagar Beach front) and a few other places in the city is meant as a health & fun activity.
 
We all learnt cycling as a fun activity when we were kids. Remember the three wheeled mini cycle or the two wheeler with a protective,   stretchable third wheel we received as Birthday gifts when we were two or three years old. Even before we reached the age of ten we learnt to drive a proper bicycle with one of the parents or a friend providing the training. The immense joy we  felt when the trainer quietly pulled his hand from the back seat to allow us to pedal without support is a feeling one can never forget in one`s life.
Cycling was an important leisure time activity  I used to indulge  in my school days. The neighbor hood cycle repair cum hire shop would lend cycles at 4 Annas ( 25 paise) per hour.

With some difficulty I used  to get money from my mother as my father refused to part with money for any activity which he considered as wasteful expenditure. I would roam about the streets of Matunga in Bombay where my family was staying then. Sundays and holidays were fun because of the racing competitions that we used to have among friends, some of whom  owned their cycles and others like me with hired vehicles. A bad accident on one such occasion resulted in my father having to pay Rs.50/- for repair of the damaged  cycle. My mother had to face the music for encouraging me,  resulting in the drying up of the source of funding. From then on I had to depend  on my friends` generosity  to use their cycles for a few minutes as a special favour.

Fortunately when my children were growing up I could afford to present each of them with a cycle which they used for going to their neighbor hood school. Cycling, however, is no more a fun activity for children because of traffic congestion and lack of open spaces for children to cycle  around.  Neither is it safe for senior citizens to indulge in because of chaotic traffic on the streets. As a friend, in his sixties, discovered recently.  He used to come on his bicycle  for a walk to Besse and was the envy of many members of our group who were all either septuageneraians or Octogenerians. Suddenly we found him missing for more than a week. We discovered that he had injured himself badly because of a freak accident near his home involving his bicycle and another vehicle. The accident grounded him for more than a month. He has wisely decided not to show off his prowess on the bicycle anymore. Latest news is that he has sold off his bicycle as commanded by his dear, caring wife who wanted him to go for a walk , `walking` and not on a bicycle (!)

This article has been published by Adyar Times in their issue dated April 08-14, 2018 under my column `Rajan`s Random Reflections`

Feedback welcome on rvrajan42@gmail.com or 9840392082

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Virtual world




The other day I found my grandson (14years) busy with his Tablet which was emanating some music. When
I asked what music was he was listening to, I was surprised to hear his reply “ I am not listening to music Thatha, I am composing music`. I became curious and wanted to know more details. 
 
It seems while browsing through his Tablet one day ,  he discovered an App called `Garage Band`. As a student of Guitar he was curious to know more about it. He found that it is a free music editing and recording software.  It has a variety of instruments that can be played on screen, from various guitars to more than 100 types of keyboards. The App also featured other instruments like  violin, cello, distortion pads for electric guitars, audio recording for song inputs etc   Besides providing sounds of  a variety of drums  it also  features   countless recorded music pieces that are pre loaded so it makes music recording far more easier for people lacking composing techniques. It’s like a virtual studio for music.  He learnt how to use the App by visiting the You Tube which had  a series of videos explaining the use of the APP. My grandson played a couple of  tunes he had composed using the App. I was impressed.

Another App related to travel that he showed me was even more fascinating.  It is called called ‘Maps’. A map service  that provides you with all the basic features like directions , GPS etc. What’s special about this particular App is  that it has a preloaded setting for select cities called a ‘flyover tour’ or ‘3-D tour’ featuring satellite images that are stitched together to make a seemingly 3 dimensional appearance. It gives a feeling of a video taken from a plane. Depending on the City you want to see,you get an aerial view of Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, Empire State Building, Tokyo Tower and other sights . It is a virtual tour of famous spots in selected cities. The 3 D images are so realistic that you feel as if you are really seeing the spots sitting in a plane or a  helicopter. I was thrilled to go on a virtual tour of Paris.

Sitting and listening to my grandson about the variety of games that he can play on the computer by downloading them from a host of Apps besides being able to see movies of  his choice made me understand why modern day kids literally live in a virtual world. They have very little or no time to interact or play with their friends, besides lack of open spaces for children to play near residential areas adds to the conundrum. The advent of smart phones has only made this process going from bad to worse resulting in many kids unable to face the challenges posed by the real world. I will attribute this to the growing no of suicides for trivial reasons by many kids as reported in the media.
While technology has made lives easier to live , it is without doubt  the reason for creating a society without any values. Are we witnessing a growing number of very  Intelligent zombies without any interest in inter acting with real people? I shudder to think of the future of our kids.
This has appeared in the 1-7th April,2018, issue of Adyar Times under my column `Rajan`s Random reflections`
Feedback welcome on rvrajan42@gmail.com or 9840392082

Sunday, March 11, 2018

`Involuntary` Habits & Stammering

 I have this bad  habit of constantly  clearing my throat  which according to my late wife sounded like a` `neighing of a horse`. She would get irritated but felt helpless. In the Western World this could be a possible reason for the wife seeking a divorce. Most of us have some irritating habit or the other which we are not aware of. Some such habits could also harm a person.
 
Like my friend who has the habit of  inserting a pen or pencil in one of  his ears and constantly twisting it  while he is in deep thoughts. My ex-boss , a handsome man with a lovely moustache had the habit of constantly caressing his moustache but suddenly he will start pulling a hair or two from the moustache when he was agitated about something. Nail biting or nose picking are a few other  obnoxious habits which some people have even when they are grown ups.

According to a report in the Press,  experts have divided repetitive, non functional motor behaviours into three categories .”First there are classic tics involving quick, jerky motions of the head, neck or arms preceded by an urge, akin to an itch that needs to be scratched. Tics can also be phonic such as grunting, sniffing,or throat clearing (as I do). Next are more fluid and rhythmic like body rocking, finger drumming and leg bobbing. The report groups compulsive  nail biting, hair pulling , skin picking etc. under  body focussed repetitive behaviours.

All these behaviours are what experts call `Unvoluntary` as opposed to involuntary muscle twitch or tremor. It is interesting to note that the experts feel that such acts are a form of communication. They may be  reflecting the anxiety, boredom, anger, sadness or tension that the person might be undergoing resulting in such behaviours.

Can such behaviours be controlled or stopped completely. There is no  conclusive findings on that.
There is another behaviour,  unrelated to the above reports,  that we know as  stammering. I know of a few friends and relatives who  stammer , some very badly, during a normal conversation. But when they are behind a mike or on the stage, they talk normally. The most well known  example of this was -late `Zul Vellani` who used to stammer very badly when in conversation but transformed himself as a  fantastic `voice over` when lending his voice for a documentary or as a stage actor in some plays staged in the sixtees and seventees. Another example is that of actor  Hrithik Roshan.

'What causes stammering?' Most experts agree that it is due to a combination of factors - physiological, neurological, psychological and environmental - but the precise ways that these factors operate together is not known, and clearly the combination will be different from one individual to another. Fortunately it is possible now to get over this problem by speech therapies  and  cures offered by other specialists.
There are many speech therapists in Chennai who claim to provide cure for stammering. Some of them specialise in treating young children with the problem. If treated early the success rate is high.

( This article has appeared in the Adyar Times issue dt 11-17th March,2018 under my column `Rajan`s Random Reflections`)



Sunday, February 18, 2018

Free Loaders

It was a regular meeting of our Rotary Clubs at a star hotel. Members started arriving early to do justice to the High tea that precedes all our meetings. Usually during our meetings  we get visitors from other clubs to make up their attendance. On this particular day, we saw a well dressed, educated man walking in and  proceeding straight to the buffet table. He was filling his plate with a generous helping of every item on the table. When some members tried to find out the Club to which he belonged, he replied that he was from Trichy but was evasive when we tried to probe him further. He was obviously a gate crasher or free loader as I call them who shamelessly visit meetings in star hotels with the sole purpose of having free meals. In my long experience of managing scores of meetings and conferences I have come across many such despicable characters. I have an uncanny knack of spotting such guys, however well dressed and sophisticated they may look.
I am a member of a Book Club in Chennai which organizes at least two meetings every month in a star hotel preceded by High Tea.  A large number of members used to turn up at such meetings which  also  included many non-members/free loaders, who not only filled  up their plates with generous helping of items on the table but some of them also fill up a carry bag with the items. To counter this menace the Club decided to issue membership cards which the members had to show at the entrance to the meeting venue before they are admitted. Though the freeloaders were  prevented from attending meetings  with this step by the Club, it couldn`t stop a few paying members from behaving like  free loaders. You see, these guys, who were not genuine book lovers, found out that by paying the annual membership fee, which probably covered the cost of 5 or 6 meetings, they could get free meals  for 25 meetings. Very good value for money.

Free loaders in marriages are very common. When suspicious organizers question them they get away by saying that they belong to the girl`s party or the boy`s party depending on who asks them the question. But an incident that I witnessed at a friend`s son`s wedding at a well known marriage hall floored me. While I was having my meal, sitting in the `Pandhi`, I noticed an old couple with two big tiffin carriers filling up the containers with the items on the serving table. A few servers from the catering team were even helping them. When a suspicious family member from the girl`s party tried to question them, they replied that they were taking the items to serve some old people of the boy` s family in the rooms as they were not in a position to come down. When the family member tried to probe them further, they realized that they were cornered. They just rushed out with whatever they had taken from the table. It was a sad sight to see the old couple indulging in such a cheap act.  I felt that they would not have barged in without the collusion of someone in the catering team.

 I think the free loaders are more despicable than the beggars we see on roads!

This article appeared in the Adyar Times issue dt. 18-24th February,2018 under my column `Rajan`s Random Reflections`


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Wrist Watches & Body clocks

I am one of those who likes to wear his wrist watch 24 hours of the day. Except when I am having a bath. Without it I feel lost. And I have this `compulsive obsessive disorder` of looking at my watch every few minutes. A habit which has got me into trouble with a few clients in my long career as an advertising professional.

 I remember once a client admonishing me for this habit. “ Stop looking at your watch all the time……. I want your total attention to what I am saying, If you have to go somewhere please tell me,  we will call off this meeting”. He was really angry. Sheepishly I removed the watch from my wrist and put it into my shirt pocket. Though I apologised, I was finding it extremely difficult to control my urge to pull the watch out of my pocket.

A friend of mine who was in the audience at a meeting I was addressing mentioned to me that he found my habit of constantly looking at the watch during the talk not only distracting but very irritating. I smiled and told him `Habits die hard”

I have a set of three watches which I wear in rotation every few weeks. Imagine my panic when I recently discovered   that not only had the wrist watch I was wearing stopped working, but the spare ones had also stopped. I was listless. In my desperation I rummaged through all the discarded watches kept in a box in my drawer.  While none of the automatics were working I found to my great joy that the first manually operated `Enicar` watch I had owned from my college days started working as soon as I wound the key. Though it was in a really bad shape, look wise, I didn`t care. I immediately wore it and kept it on until I went to a watch repair shop to get one of my regular watches functional.

Another interesting experience I have relates to my  body clock, which most people would have experienced in their life time. In the old days I was a user of the regular alarm clock for  waking me up in the mornings at a fixed time. These days I use my mobile for the same purpose. But I invariably wake up five minutes before the scheduled alarm time. My body clock in action! Once I woke up late to find that not only  the alarm clock had stopped working (or maybe I had failed to hear the alarm) but my body clock too had failed. I discovered that my wrist watch was not on my wrist. Obviously it had fallen off during my sleep. Looks like my body clock failed to work in the absence of the watch on my wrist!!

Most of the younger generation don`t seem to wear wrist watches because they can see the time on their mobiles. I however, find  it easy to look at my watch than at my mobile for checking time.  I have a fetish for time management and my wrist watch is my life line to maintain my reputation as a person who always keeps his time commitments

I think I will add a clause in my will that my family should not remove the watch from my  wrist when they  are taking me on my last journey. You see, I don`t want to be late for my meeting with the LORD!

This article appeared in Adyar Times issue dt 4-10th February,2018 under my column `Rajan`s  Random Reflections``


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Security Systems


    I am sure many  NRI parents would have had the experience I am going to share. It relates to the security systems – both Burglar & Fire proof -installed in the homes of their kin in the USA.
 
I remember a visit to my cousin`s home in Washington almost 30 years ago.. My wife was with me on her maiden visit to America. On the first day of our visit,  after a hearty dinner we had retired to our bedroom on the first floor in the two-level, 4 bedroom home. In the middle of the night  I woke up very thirsty. Unfortunately I had forgotten to collect a bottle of water which I always keep next to my bed and consume first thing in the morning. My wife, who had also woken up, volunteered to go down to the kitchen to fetch the  water. As soon as she got down and entered the kitchen area, the security alarm started wailing aloud, waking up not only my cousin but I think the entire neighbourhood! I also rushed down. My cousin, who realised what had happened apologised to us for not warning us about the security system. It seems the system could also be connected  to the nearest police station when the family goes out of station, locking the home. If a burglar attempted to enter the house, the police station would get the alert and rush to the home to nab the burglar.

The next experience relates to the smoke/fire alarm installed at his home by my son in his one bedroom flat  in Tampa, Florida. During my short stays with him every year I would volunteer to cook  his daily meals, not only enough for us but also for a few of his close friends who used to barge in to partake the home cooked meals. I was a popular uncle because of the `Home Cooked Meal` service I provided for a few days every year. On the very first day of my visit I forgot the instructions my son had given me regarding the smoke alarm in the kitchen. So I was startled  when it went off making a loud noise when I tried to fry something in the Kadai.  I did not know what to do. It was a lonely neighbour hood and there was nobody nearby to help. I had to call my son to rush home to help me. To avoid a repeat performance from me, my son ensured that the alarm was covered with a wet tissue  paper during my stay at his home so that it did not  get activated by the smoke emanating from the items I was cooking. I was told that this smoke alarm is mandatory in any house in USA  (as most houses are built on wooden structures) and if found not working when officials come for surprise checks, the owner would have to pay a penalty.

Today such systems are available  in India too. Judging by the number of criminal cases that the police is able to solve thanks to the CCTV cameras installed in many residential/ commercial areas,   there is increasing demand for such  security systems. Senior citizens who stay alone will do well to install security systems in their homes for protection from strangers with malicious intent.

(This article has appeared in Adyar Times issue dt.7-10th January,2018 under my column Rajan`s random Reflections`)