Saturday, July 17, 2010

RVR Autobio Excerpts II -Life in a Chawl

Chawl life is unique to Bombay. A chawl consists of a 2 to 3 storey building with several single room tenements to a floor in which any¬where from 10 to 20 families live, sharing 2 or 3 common toilets and bathrooms. Each tenant will have a minimum of 5 occupants or more. Occupants could be lower class (factory workers), middle class with white collar jobs, small traders and businessmen.

A typical chawl is a potpourri of Indian diaspora as people from different religions, hailing from different parts of the country live to¬gether, unlike modern day flat system where people lead isolated lives and busy that they have no time for neighbours (of¬ten they won’t even know who the neighbour is). Interestingly, in a chawl people live like a joint family. Since the rooms are small (max. 250 sq.ft.) and placed next to each other, there was absolutely no privacy. Even ordinary conversations among family members will be heard by the neighbours.

Though the individual tenements are very small, when there are occasions to be celebrated by a family, the rooms of all the tenants are thrown open to the host for accommodating visiting relatives, providing space for serving meals to visitors or even providing room for the visitors to sleep for a night or two. In spite of living in cloistered surroundings, the hearts of the chawl members were big.

At the same time, it was not uncommon to witness serious fights among neighbours, often for trivial reasons. Most common fights were over disputes among children carried forth to the parents. Another common fight used to be over the mess that small kids make on the passageway to common toilets – the issue hotly debated as to whose child did the job and who should clean up the mess. These fights among two neighbours were often free entertainment for the other neighbours, from very personal attacks to general, using the most abu¬sive language. There will be Marathi abuses vs. Gujarati abuses, Punjabi vs. Bengali, Madrasi (anybody south of the Vind¬hyas is known as a Madrasi in Bombay be it a Tamilian, Kannadhiga, Andhraite or a Malayalee) vs. Hindi. Sometimes the verbal attack would lead to fisticuffs, forcing the other neighbours to intervene and separate the “fighters”. Very interestingly, the same neighbours who fought like cats and dogs one day, will be seen enjoying bonhomie like long lost friends on other happier occasions.

A chawl is one place where you can never get bored or depressed. For children of all ages, living in a chawl is fun. You are always surrounded by friends from the building who are playing with you, joking around or generally keeping you engagedn and that they had told him that he was a ‘God’s blessing’ to them. We got frightened that he might go back and check this out with his parents and land us all in trouble. So we had to pacify him and tell him that what his parents had told him must be true. It will be interesting to know that this is the same Ganesh who married very early (at the age of 23), and later gave us the true insights into married life. He also became a father and a grand father at a very early age

Monday, July 12, 2010

RVR Autobio Excerpts -1 Matunga Little Madras

We were living in a chawl (a building which housed 27 tenements with just two rooms in each tenement) in Matunga which was dominated by South Indian (Palghat) Brahmins and Gujarathis. Matunga! The lit¬tle Madras of Bombay like the Serangoon Road in Singapore. Twenty six years out of the twenty nine years in Bombay, I lived in this Cen¬tral suburb. Walking around the streets of Matunga, especially the main market area near Matunga Central Station (There is another Matunga Road Station in the Western suburbs), one felt like being in Madras with mamis(ladies) wearing 9 yard sarees and mamas (men) with folded dhotis walking around the market place doing shopping!

The chawl where my family was staying was the first building on the right, when one stepped out of the station. Those days a full fledged fruit market was operating on the footpath adjacent to the outer wall of our building, making it difficult for the commuters to enter or exit from the station. This fruit market was of course removed subsequently and relocated to a multi storied building which was put up by the Bombay Municipal Corporation nearby clearing the way for a parking lot for vehicles in front of the station.
Matunga was truly a place where you could get everything from ‘a pin to an elephant’, as they say. Step out of the station and bang op¬posite you had a choice of Gujarathi, Udipi and Iranian restaurants; a fruit and vegetable market, grocery shops, a silk saree shop, a jewellery shop etc. The vegetable market had all the items, including those that were unique to the South Indians like drumstick, small (sambar) onion etc. The flower bazaar with a row of shops next to the Matunga post office resembled the typical flower shop one finds outside temples in Tamilnadu. The smell of Jasmine and Rose would envelope you as you walk along. Suddenly if you get a whiff of fresh ground coffee it means you are close to Philips Coffee House, which sold fresh ground coffee powder to customers! Close to the flower bazaar were two temples – one Bajhana Samaj and another called Asthika Samaj where you would find the Sanctum-sanctorum filled with big, framed pictures of every popular deity you can think of. In the evenings, these temples would be crowded with both young and old `Madrasis` who came to listen to discourses by religious leaders of the time, narrating stories of Ramayana or Mahabaratha.

Gujarathi, Tamil and Marathi medium schools, a Commerce and Arts & Science College were not far away from the station. VJTI (Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute), an old and well knownEngineering College was about 20 minutes walk from the station. Aurora Cinema, in Kings Circle, close to Matunga was the only cinema theatre to screen popular Tamil movies on Sunday mornings! Later, when the Tamil population in Matunga grew in leaps and bounds, Aurora started featuring Tamil films during regu¬lar shows.

I keep going back to Matunga at least once a year on my way to the Bombay airport to buy my favourite Gujarathi Teplas, Dhoklas and Kand¬vis from Cheddha Stores opposite to the Matunga Railway Station.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

R.V.Rajan Autobiography

A Candid Autobiography

By R V Rajan,
Chairman, Anugrah Madison Advertising P Ltd.
(a Rural Division of Madison Communication)

From the chawls of Bombay to the demanding world of advertising and rural communication, Rajan’s life is a story of what industry, energy and audacity in pursuit of ones dreams, can achieve in life.

This book is about his personal life, his professional life and his parallel life concerning his work with voluntary organizations like Round Table India, Rotary International, Advertising Agencies Association of India, Public Relations Society of India, Advertising Club Madras, Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC), an NGO headquartered in Singapore, IFRA, an association devoted to Publishing Industry headquartered in Germany and Rural Marketing Association of India (RMAI) which conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award on him recently.

It is a candid racy fast moving book which makes for compelling and rewarding reading.

Published by
Productivity & Quality Publishing P Ltd., Chennai

195 pages paper back – Rs.295/-

Special offer!
Rs.250/- only till 1st August 2010.

Just pay Rs.250/- + Rs.30/- for courier charges per book
and the copy will be at your doorstep!

Cheques / DDs in favour of R V Rajan to be sent to
Anugrah Madison Advertising P Ltd., Jammi Building II Floor,
125 Royapettah High Road, Chennai 600 004.

For Direct Transfer to the A/c through NEFT –
Karur Vysya Bank, Whites Road Branch, Chennai 600 014
Current A/c. No. – 1219 135 459
IFSC – KVBL0001219

For more details write to: or Mobile: 98403 92082

For an excerpt from the Businessline issue dated 3.12.2009, please click on the link below:

What they say

Sam Balsara, Chairman & Managing Director, Madison World
Autobiographies need not be written only by very famous people. There is a lot for us to learn from not so well-known people who are achievers nevertheless and whose life can provide inspiration to a lot of people. When reading Rajan’s book for some reason I thought I was going through R K Narayan novel. Rajan’s story is absorbing and fascinating because of its simple, one-to-one narrative style.

Prof. Mithileshwar Jha, IIM Bangalore, Co-Author of Asian Edition of Philip Kotler’s Book on Marketing
It was a privilege and delight going through the story of your evolution from “Matunga Rajan” to “Crisis Rajan” to “Value-based CEO Rajan” to “Rural Marketing Guru Rajan.” It is a delight because it very candidly, in a story telling mode, without malice to `anyone, narrates the journey of one of Lakshman’s common men to un-common achievements. In the story you have beautifully weaved-in very important learnings for a professional – on professional approach, leadership, risk taking, crises handling- all with a clear conscience , with a sense of daring and a deep sense of spirituality. At a very basic level one also learns a lot about functioning of professional advertising agency. All professionals will benefit from it, more so the budding, young ambitious students of management.

Mr. M Parameswaran, Executive Director & CEO, Draftfcb Ulka
The vivid recollection of the numerous incidents that have happened in your exciting life will make interesting reading for anyone interested in advertising and the legacies of our bygone era.

Mr. Raj Rangarajan, NRI, Freelance Journalist
Your book made great reading and very gripping in parts. You have done ample justice to personal aspects of your life with unqualified candor -- a trait not many writers have mastered. From Amsterdam to artichokes to "avani attam" you have covered it all in your uniquely humorous, chatty style. Whether its Advertising, Rural marketing or Round Table you have been splendidly fascinating.

Mr. Bobby Sista, Former CMD, Sistas Advertising
I have only one word to describe your book – AWESOME. While I thought I knew you, on reading your book I have discovered a totally new person and personality. Your achievements over the years and in a variety of assignments culminating in your ultimate career of Rural Communications are really very impressive.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To be an Author

Prabha and I were recently invited to a dinner get-together for a few authors by a journalist friend. ‘Now that you have also become an author by writing your autobiography, I thought I will invite you to this exclusive do’. I must say, I was quite thrilled at my new status in society.

It also warms my heart when I hear somebody tell me, “you know I finished reading your book in one sitting – it was so interesting!” But what is more satisfying is when I hear the comment “It is an inspiring book. I gave it to my friend who is having problems with life. He is now fully charged up and says he will not brood over his problems anymore but find solutions!” Somebody described the book as ‘awesome’ and some one said it is a ‘charming’ book. The other day I visited the Landmark bookshop in Nungambakkam High Road. I found my book prominently displayed at the front of the shop along side the book by Nandan Nilakeni. I promptly captured the picture in my mobile camera for posterity.

For all the kudos I am getting, I have also heard people commenting on my candidness. While one friend asked ‘Rajan, your description of your early life where you are projecting yourself as a deprived person - don’t you think it will affect your present image?’

Another friend was curious “you have described in vivid detail a lot of your personal problems and how you solved them. Did your family have no objections?”

A journalist friend was candid in his opinion – “this is not the way to write an autobiography – you should not have gone into so much of personal details.”

As a person involved in the creative business, I am aware that assessment of any creative effort - be it a story, a painting, a play or anything else is always subjective. What I think as brilliant will be considered by somebody else as rubbish. It is all in the game of creativity! But I am happy that I am getting more favourable response to my book than negative ones! It is also satisfying to note that the book is now beginning to reach beyond my circle of friends and relatives.

On the whole I am happy that an effort I started as a fun activity post retirement, is taking on new meaning and is making some difference to some people’s lives.

R V Rajan
8th July 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Be henpecked to be happy!

Even after 37 years of married life, I have not learnt my lessons! In spite of the fact that I consider myself a ‘women’s libber` trying to do a lot of things to help my wife (so I think). Things, which very few of my generation (I have completed 67 and running 68!) would even consider doing. Most of them are happy to put their feet up after they return from an outing and order around their wives – ‘Give me this! Get me that!’

On the contrary, I am one of those who believes in helping myself for all my personal requirements at home. Right from my school days, when I returned home and if I found my mother resting, I will not disturb her and quietly help myself in the kitchen,

I have carried the habit into my married life! Every time we have a party at home, I will not only help my wife in planning the menu but also buy the vegetables required and cut them suitably to help her save on time. While she is busy cooking I would take the dinner set out, clean them and lay the table for the party. At dinner time, I will be busy running between the kitchen and the dining table, ensuring the continuous supply of items. I always believed in giving a personal touch to whatever I did. After the dinner, I would try and clear up all the glasses and plates left all over the house by the guests.

Similarly, on a daily basis I help my wife in planning the menu, buy the vegetables and cut them, in the process save her a good 60 minutes of valuable time in the morning,
so I think. But a statement she made about 18 years ago complaining that while the men have Sundays and other Public Holidays to relax, a woman is bonded to the kitchen for 365 days of the year looking after the husband and children, made me think again! I decided to help. I became a Sunday Cook and told my wife proudly that from now on she can take rest on Sundays.

But will she rest? No!, A workaholic that she is, on Sundays she would find some other household chores to do and continue to complain about her plight. The understanding husband that I am supposed to be, I decided to help her in the kitchen, even on other week days!

That is when all hell broke loose! Instead of appreciating my initiative she blasted me for entering the kitchen without her permission. If I bought some groceries, which I found missing in the kitchen stores, she will scream at me for my unnecessary intrusion into her ‘domain’. If I gave her some ideas about how I would like certain items made ( I am an avid ‘foodie’ as you can judge from the girth around my waist), she will shout, “Don’t teach me how to cook! I know how to make it. Do I interfere in your office matters? Will you tolerate if I tell you how to run your business?” The admonishing will go on till the afternoon, if I stayed on in the house!

Sundays are the days when I get the maximum firing! Not only for the mess I make in the kitchen, (So she says, but I believe that though I am a messy cook, I clean up the kitchen to the best of my abilities before I hand it back to her) but also for the ‘unnecessary’ things I buy from the nearby supermarket! The problem is that apart from being a Foodie, I am also an avid shopper which justifies the firing I get from my wife- “You just go on buying things… I have to find a place to store them, maintain them. Do you ever care for the troubles I take to maintain this house?.. blah...blah”

Have I learnt my lessons? No, of course not! I continue to irritate my wife every day for some reason or the other! You see, I realize that I am doing whatever I am doing at home because I am enjoying doing them. Not necessarily because I want to help my wife – which in any case she is never going to accept or appreciate.

My advice to all the wives of my friends, who feel very jealous of my wife because she has such an understanding and helpful husband, please think! Would you really be happy to have a husband who meddles around with your kingdom every day? Remember, the grass always look greener on the other side!

To all those lazy husbands, who consider me a lousy example to follow, please don’t because from my long experience, I have realized that no wife would like her ‘kingdom’ to be invaded by her husband. So relax, the next time you feel lazy to go to the dining table to have your meal, ask your wife to come and feed you with a spoon! For all you know she will enjoy doing it and be proud of the fact that her husband does not even lift a spoon without her help! Better be a ‘henpecked’ husband to be happy!