Monday, June 29, 2015

Ralph Nader of TN - R.Desikan

If I have to name a person as an unforgettable character in my life it would be R Desikan, the consumer activist who died on the night of June 27. Considered the Ralph Nader of South India, he was a remarkable personality whose fighting spirit made him take on establishments – both government and private -- regardless of the threats involved.

Interestingly he was self-taught and did not hold a graduate degree. Born into a large family on June 7, 1932, he grew up in a village in Tirunelveli district. As his father died when he was in the first year of college he had to drop out, but he made up for the lack of formal education by reading for hours at the Connemara Library, in Madras.

Though activism was his passion, his first love was the publication business. He started as a representative for Imprint magazine for five years and then moved to Reader’s Digest. While working there, he pioneered the concept of ‘Advertiser’s Supplement’, a first of its kind in the country. In 1973, he moved to Chennai and soon started full-fledged publishing. He launched the magazine ‘Indian Needlewoman’ under the banner of Speciality Publications with his wife Nirmala as editor. Nirmala, proved to be the greatest asset in Desikan’s life. While he was the ideas man, she was the executor and together they started a series of magazines, including the first ever women-centric Tamil magazine Mangayar Malar.

It was in 1977 that Desikan decided to rustle up the scene by bringing out a weekly community paper called South Madras News, distributed free. The magazine allowed residents of South Madras to voice their issues. A natural corollary was the establishment of an NGO in1987, SMN consumer protection council. This was followed close on the heels of the much debated Indian Consumer Protection Act 986 being passed by the Parliament.

During this time his publishing project took a hit, he decided to close the unit and took on the avatar of the consumer activist. With Concert (Centre for Education, Research Testing and Training), he took awareness on consumer rights to a national level. Concert was the first ever fuel testing laboratory run by an NGO in Chennai.

Along with some stalwarts he started an NGO, The Catalyst Trust, now active in championing electoral reforms. The flagship organization of the group, Consumers Association of India (CAI), has come to be recognized as one of the two top consumer organizations in the country. Established in 2001 it has helped consumers get redressal from governments or erring corporates.

Though I had known Desikan for over 45 years, I witnessed his crusading spirit when he invited me to join the Consumer Association of India as a trustee. He was singularly responsible for opening up a whole new world to me, introducing me to the Round Table India – a youth organization devoted to fellowship and service.

I met him in the hospital ten days before his demise. While the doctors were
debating whether he should be put under the scalpel, he was talking with great enthusiasm about new projects on the anvil at CAI.

An ad-man, journalist, printer, publisher, a pioneer of ideas, an inveterate optimist, a visionary with tremendous energy and enthusiasm - more than all these descriptions of Desikan, what people will always remember him  for is his role as a crusader for consumer rights.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Retired but untired

 “Now that you have completely retired, how do you kill your time?”  is a question I face from some friends when I meet them at social gatherings!  I tell them that I don’t have any time to kill because I have all the time in the world to spend on my favourite hobbies like reading, writing, cooking, socializing etc.

My day starts at 4.00 am.  After a quick cup of coffee or tea, I am at my work desk - first going through my emails and  then I start writing.  Either writing on new topics  or revising drafts of at least four articles which are stored in my desktop. At 6.30 am, I go for a walk.

I return home by 7.30 am and straight away get into the kitchen. . Preparing my own breakfast, cooking one or two items for my lunch - an  activity I share with my daughter-in-law who operates a separate kitchen on the first floor of the  house.  I wanted both my son and  I to have our respective spaces .

Once I get into the kitchen it  becomes hectic. I spend a lot of  time  cleaning up used utensils which keep popping up,  keeping  things in the right places, wiping the granite top of the cooking area clean – all of which takes  more time than the actual time taken for cooking. It takes less than 45 minutes to cook a decent South Indian meal -excluding the vegetable cutting time!  While at it, I also find time to pluck the flowers from the potted plants around our home, which my late wife had so lovingly tended .Then I have a quick bath, perform puja etc.  By the time I finish all these chores it is 11.00 am.  I am physically tired.  I have been on my feet for nearly five hours. It is time to take a break. I relax on my Lazy Boy chair,  a simple but functional duplicate of the unwieldy and big Lazy Boy Sofas you find in all NRI homes in USA. I use this time in the morning to read the daily newspapers and catch up on  books.

Lunch time is 1pm. after which I go back to my computer  and browse through Facebook, Twitter  and so on  in order to avoid going to sleep immediately after lunch.  Then 2.30pm to 3.30 pm  is time to rest

By 3.30 pm my part time driver, who works for me between 3.30 pm and 8.30 pm arrives. Driving has become difficult for me due to poor reflexes. Night driving particularly has become a nightmare to be avoided at any cost! So, I plan all my outings - shopping, visiting friends / relatives, attending meetings of voluntary bodies , social clubs and so on  after 4pm. This is also the time when I consciously try to make some one happy through words, gestures, or little acts. Making other people happy makes me happy!

I have my snack dinner ( tiffin) at home by 7.30 pm  when my son & daughter in law also join me so that we can have a chat around the dining table. Post dinner I try watching  TV for an hour -mostly the news channels which at that point of time have the silly debates on irrelevant topics conducted by loud, overbearing  and obnoxious TV anchors. I don`t know why I watch them, but I do.

If the TV programmes  are impossible to watch  I go back to reading the book I was reading in the afternoon. In keeping with my life long habit of `Early to bed , early to rise` I hit the sleep button latest by 10pm. Before I realize it, it is morning again and I wake up with a spring on my feet ready to face another day.

So where is the time to kill?  The secret of a happy life for  senior citizens who have retired from active working life is to re- tool themselves to an active retired life as I have done and I am sure many  others are doing.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Tribute to Gopulu

The veteran cartoonist, S Gopalan, popularly known as Gopulu, who passed away recently at the ripe old age of 91, had a great sense of humour.  When a friend came  visiting him at a hospital, where he was admitted after a paralytic stroke he suffered in 2002, he joked, “May be it was my  obsession with strokes  that led to my brush with a stroke”.  The stroke left his right hand paralysed.  But Gopulu was not the one to give up.  He taught himself to draw with his left hand (he was 78 then) and thus became an ambidextrous artist.

Born at the temple town of Tanjore in 1924, he studied at the Kumbakonam School of Art.  In 1941 he met the legendary artist  Mali  in Ananda Vikatan, who commissioned a number  of paintings by Gopulu for the magazine`s  Deepavali specials and used him as a free lance artist. He formally joined Ananda Vikadan as a cartoonist only in 1948. Gopulu’s creativity encompassed jokes,  cartoons and illustrations which were social, historical and mythological in nature.  His series of  silent jokes (cartoons without captions) appeared regularly in Ananda Vikatan from 1951 to 1968 delighting his readers week after week.

As  humarist illustrator Gopulu worked for popular serials in Ananda Vikatan like Thillana Mohanambal and  Washingtonil  Thirumanam.  His teaming up with the legendary editor Devan of Ananda Vikatan, resulted in his creating the famous  caricature  of Sambu in  Thuppariyum Sambu the story of a bumbling detective  penned by Devan and serialised in Ananda Vikatan. It was later performed on stage by Stage creations  with Kathadi Ramamurthy playing the role of Sambu. It was later telecast as a serial in Doordarshan.

As a humorous critic Gopulu also did political cartoons.  But some of his cartoon hurt politicians who started complaining to the editor of Ananda Vikatan, which eventually led to his quitting the magazine job and seek  greener pasteurs   in the field of advertising.

After a brief stint with the Madras based advertising agencies like Efficient Publicities and F D Stewart, he started his own advertising agency, Adwave Advertising P Ltd., in association with Mrs. Vimala, his  erstwhile colleague in F D Stewart.  Thus began his long  career in advertising in which he was actively involved for more than three decades.  He, however continued to do freelance work for magazines.  His  full  page cartoons and paintings were a regular feature in the Diwali specials of some Tamil magazines.  

As an advertising man, he is credited  with   designing logos for  Sun TV and Kungumam magazine.  And of course the emblem of the little man  with a brief case in one  hand for the Madras based  Shriram Chits was his creation and is being used by the Shriram group even today.  His association with Shriram Group continued for over three decades . One of his most memorable campaign was a corporate campaign he did for Laxmi Mills  of Coimbatore. The series of advertisements in Newspapers and magazines featured caricatures of heroes from our epics like Mahabharatha, Ramayana etc. illustrated by him. Other notable campaigns he did were for clients like Kali Mark beverages, Narasu`s Coffee, Laxmi Vilas bank, Spic,  Madras Cements ( Ramco brand) etc.

Restricted by his talent for specific type and style of drawings, his agency was also   restricted to handling  work for only Tamil Nadu based advertisers. 

It is significant to note that Adwave was the first advertising agency in Chennai to have its own building in the heart of Madras on South Boag road. . Called Adwave House,  it still houses the office of the agency now being run by a group of old staff members.

While Gopulu  was not averse to the use of technology and devices by youngsters to draw cartoons and illustrations, he himself preferred using his hand to create his drawings  till the end

Among the many awards that Gopulu won during his long career was the Kalaimamani Award by the Government of Tamilnadu in 1991 and the lifetime achievement award in 2001 from the Bangalore based Indian Institute of Cartoonists.

But the one Award he cherished most was the Distinguished Service Award that Advertising Club Madras conferred on him during its Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 2006.  This I learnt when I met him at a function held last year to honour him. He told me at a private chat, “while I have got several awards for my drawing abilities  I was touched by the gesture of Advertising Club Madras to recognise me for my long  association with the advertising business”. I was happy to hear this from Gopulu because as the Chairman of the Golden Jubilee celebrations Committee of the Advertising Club, Madras I had a role to play in including his name in the list of Awardees.

At the end of the meeting  he asked me to drop in at his house for a chat.  My regret is that even before I could fulfil my promise to him, he passed away.

His wife of  over 75  years predeceased him in July,2014.  He is survived by his only son Rajeshwaran an Engineer who is based in USA.

Gopulu was a very talented cartoonist who in spite of achieving name and fame, continued to be humble, jovial and friendly with everyone.  He was humility personified.

The world of artists and advertising  will surely miss him.  May his soul rest in peace!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Reckless Youth (short story)

 Rakesh was an executive in a private limited company in Delhi.  He came from a middle class background. Immediately after his graduation he  joined a company dealing with auto spare parts, as a trainee.  Impressed by his sincerity and hard work the company had promoted him as an executive which entitled him to occupy a cubicle.  The cubicle had two tables.  The seat next to him was lying vacant for more than a month as the replacement for the colleague who had resigned his job, had not yet joined

It was a Monday morning and   Rakesh as usual reached his office by 9.30 am and was browsing through his papers, when his Manager, accompanied by a young man, came to his desk. He  introduced him to Navin as the new executive who had joined the department and would occupy the table next to Rakesh.

Navin was a tall,  handsome young man with a friendly  disposition.  Being of the same age group Rakesh and Navin hit it off well.  While Rakesh was a married man, Navin was still an eligible bachelor.  Within a few months they had become so close that Rakesh became Navin’s confidante. He would talk about his family, friends and other happenings in life.  Before long  he also  started sharing details of his love life.

Rakesh with middle class values who had married a girl of his parents choice, Navin’s love life seemed  full of fun.  He started envying  Navin.


Navin had several girl friends belonging to different regions. Invariably he would have a date with someone or the other, every other evening and   by 5.30 pm  he would be fidgety and start looking at his watch .Before the boss called him for some last minute job, he would vanish from the office.

One morning Navin walked into the office, a very happy man.  When Rakesh asked him for the reason, he sat  dreamy eyed  in his chair, refusing  to talk.  There was a contented smile on his face.

“Come on Navin, tell me the secret of your happiness”,  Rakesh shook Navin’s shoulder to bring him back to reality.

“Yaar! She was too good! Yesterday I managed to go to bed with Rekha and found out that I was the first person in her life to have had sex with her”

“What, you  had sex with a virgin?” asked Rakesh with curiosity.

“What to do yaar, if girls fall for me, I have no choice but to make them happy.  Am I not doing a social service? Ha.. ha.. ha”- Navin burst out laughing at his own joke.

Rakesh was not sure that he agreed with his friend.

“ But I am very choosy about whom I go to bed with” continued Navin

“What do you mean by being choosy?”

Suddenly Navin got a call from his boss on the intercom.  He left his  table after promising Rakesh to give the details of his fun life another day.


Rakesh was quite keen to know more about  Navin’s sex  life.  It promised to be interesting.  One evening he managed to  buttonhole  Navin and took him for a drink to a nearby restaurant .  Fortunately his wife was away at her mother’s place and he was in no hurry to return home.

They were sitting in a cosy corner in the restaurant.

“Tell me Navin, about your being choosy about the girls you go to bed with”

Navin smiled at his friend and said, “Are you envious Rakesh! Well you decided to marry early and settle down in life.  I decided not to marry but enjoy life to the full.  Why buy the cow when the milk is free? Ha .. Ha .. Ha” -Navin responded with his trade mark  laughter.

Seeing the change in the expression  on Rakesh’s face, Navin realized that he had hurt his friend.

“Okay Baba! since you are so eager to know about my secret, I will reveal it to you”

Rakesh immediately relaxed and was  ready to listen to Navin’s story.

“You know Rakesh, I  seem to be having a lucky mole somewhere that girls fall for my look and sweet talk easily.  I was seduced by a young married woman in our  neighbourhood, when I was only 16 and was still in school.  But she taught me many secrets of sex life which has stood me in good stead in all my escapades with girls”.

“Immediately after school, because my father’s job involved frequent transfers, I was admitted to a college with hostel facility.  It was a co-ed college with separate hostel for girls and boys.  But opportunity  for girls and boys to mix were plenty.  I soon realized that, much to the envy of my friends,  I was the target of many girls who not only sought my company but also were willing to go to any lengths to make me happy.  Since I had already tasted blood, I was ready for the game. It was not difficult for me to go to bed with some of them. And I found out that many of them had already had sex with other boys but a few of them were still virgins.  I discovered to my surprise that the pleasure of deflowering a virgin was much greater”

Rakesh who was listening to Navin intently   asked, “but how do you know that the girt is a virgin?  She may be telling you a lie that you are the first person in her life?”

“Good question Rakesh.  That is where experience counts.  After sleeping with so many girls I can distinguish between an initiated and uninitiated girl”

“Don’t they ask you to marry them? Not all go after you only for sex?”

“Again a good question.  Yes, some of them do talk about long term commitment.  But the moment I realize the victim is serious about marrying me, I ease the person out of my life”

“They can blackmail you buy claiming to be pregnant with your baby.  What do you do?”

“Wow, Rakesh! The way you are asking me questions, you make me feel that you must have also had affairs before your marriage.”

Rakesh recoiled and blurted out, “No, no.  I had no girl friends and no affairs.  In fact I was a virgin when I  married.  My wife was the first person I had sex with.”  replied Rakesh sheepishly.

“Ha.. ha…   you missed all the fun in life Rakesh.  Well,  to answer your question I always ensure that I practice safe sex with the girls I go to bed with”

 “Tell me Navin, how many girls have you slept with?”

“Scores of them Rakesh.  I have lost count.  But these days I specialize  in seducing girls who blackmail me to marry them, because their parents have chosen some other groom for them”

“What do you mean?”

“Without falling into the marriage trap, I persuade them to have their first sex with me”

“Oh my god, Navin!  Is it not a rape?  Is it not a sin?” Asked Rakesh innocently.

“How could it be a sin, Rakesh?  It is consensual sex.  I am not forcing myself on the girl.  I  tell them sob stories  and  somehow convince them to have their first sex experience with me.  Some agree and some don’t.  I take my chance.  But by and large I have been very successful in initiating a number  of to- be married virgin girls into sex”

Navin’s tone was triumphant . He  beamed with pride at his achievements!

Rakesh was shell-shocked listening to Navin.


Navin  left the company within a year  for a better job in Bangalore.  While he continued with his  efforts  to trap innocent girls with his looks and charm, he did not realize that his boss’s not so good looking daughter, who was also working in the same company, had designs on him.  She had fallen madly  in love with Navin and was bent on marrying him at any cost. She had discovered the secrets of Navin`s love life and  threatened him with dire consequences if he refused to marry her.

In the meanwhile Navin had found out  that he was afflicted with an incurable disease which posed a big question mark about his job and his very life. He felt very insecure about his future. When the girl was willing to marry him even after learning about his health condition, he saw  a possible insurance against the uncertain future he faced. He agreed to marry the girl. Within a year he was blessed with a baby girl  bringing  some cheer into his  otherwise gloomy life.

 The rare nervous disease he had  was slowly affecting the different parts of his body making him progressively  immobile.  Thanks to his marrying his  boss’s daughter he continued to have a job and earn a living. 


Within  two years  of Navin  leaving, Rakesh also left the company  for a better job in another company in Mumbai  and in course of time completely lost touch with Navin.

Years rolled by. Rakesh  had risen to the position of  Vice President of the company in which he  was working ,  involving  frequent travels.

One morning when he was at the Mumbai airport seated  at the  departure lounge waiting for the announcement of his  flight to  Bangalore  he saw a man being brought in a wheel chair by an old looking lady.  The person with a grey beard seemed to be  very ill.  But the face looked familiar to Rakesh.

He got up and started discretely walking towards the wheel chair when the person also saw him and their eyes were locked for a few seconds.  Rakesh realized that the person in the wheel chair was his old  friend Navin.  The handsome,  charismatic and romantic young man had been reduced to a cripple moving around in a wheel chair.

Rakesh went close to the wheel chair and said, “Aren`t you Navin?  We worked together more than twenty years ago”

With great difficulty the man  extended his right hand to Rakesh.

“Ya Rakesh, it is me Navin” his voice was feeble and incomprehensive. ‘This is my wife’ he said pointing to the lady standing next to him. There was a look of self pity in his eyes.  Rakesh realized that his friend did not want to talk further. So they exchanged cards and promised to meet later.

Rakesh did not meet Navin. But sitting in a hotel in Bangalore a few days  later when  he was browsing through the newspaper a news item regarding the rape of a 20 year old girl in a taxi by the taxi driver attracted his notice.  The face of the person featured in the photo accompanying the news item looked familiar.  It was his old friend Navin in a wheel chair looking completely shattered . The victim was his daughter.

“Did God punish Navin for his immoral acts in his youth?” wondered Rakesh. He remembered his Guruji telling him once that “in Kaliyuga you reap the consequences of your misdeeds in this very life”.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Grandma Remedies

Veteran Cartoonist Gopulu, well known among  Tamil readers for his evocative and humorous cartoons passed away recently at the ripe old age of 91. He was popular for his cover cartoons in Ananda Vikatan and Diwali special issues of many Tamil magazines. May his soul rest in peace.

I recently came across one of his famous cartoons depicting the scene of a typical Tambrahm household where a child is being persuaded to take castor oil, which brought back memories of this ritual from my own childhood.

Castor oil, a bitter, gooey and foul smelling  oil was the “grandma” remedy for all stomach related problems.  All the members of our family had to undergo the ritual of consuming this concoction, once every six months on on a Sunday morning. While some of the adolescents among my four siblings sometimes managed to escape the ordeal, the smaller kids had no choice. The previous night my mother would brew a special `Kashayam` consisting of some herbs . On the appointed morning, two drops of pure castor oil would be added to this `Kashayam` in a tumbler and we would be asked to drink it. Invariably the kids would hold the tumbler at an `arms distance` and make all kinds of faces before gulping down the repulsive concoction, holding our noses tight! If the younger kids threw tantrums and refused to imbibe the liquid, then my father would take charge.  He would hold the kid on his lap, while my mother forced the liquid down the throat of the kid using a small ‘Gindy `(a silver cup with a beak), with drops of the liquid dribbling down the mouth.

After an hour the concoction would start having its effect. With a rumbling stomach all the kids would make a beeline to the toilet one after the other- to evacuate the accumulated junk and dirty bile collected in their stomachs overthe previous six months. Of course, there would be a fight over the use of the toilets as some kids would take inordinate time to come out while the others would be waiting impatiently with crossed legs and twisted arms, trying very hard to control the urge to evacuate immediately.

If one of the kids showed no sign of any activity then he/she would be asked to get on to a stool and jump six or seven times to activate the stomach. If even that effort failed then the concerned kid would be forced to go through the ordeal again the following Sunday

At the end of the ordeal all the kids would be exhausted and ravenously hungry. All ready to pounce on the special diet, served hot. The menu would consist of Jeeraga Rasam, Paruppu Thogayal (Lentil Chutney), and Chutta Appalam (roastedpapad). Sometimes a limited quantity of raw banana poriyal would be also served and I always used to look forward to the special menu served on that day

Another ritual that we kids were forced to undergo was the mandatory weekly Oil bath! My mother would heat up the gingely oil in a bowl. She would then make us sit on a Palagai (a wooden plank) and apply a generous helping of the oil to the head first, gently but firmly massaging the head.After that the oil would be applied all over the body. The grown up kids would have to apply the oil on their bodies, on their own. Dripping with oil, we would have to hang around for an hour, so that the oil seeped into the skin to make it glow later! All of us standing in our undergarments with oil oozing, was a sight to behold!

Later the kids washed off the oil using hot water and shikakai powder. In the absence of Shampoo those days, soap was  used in addition to Shikakai powder.

Grandmas believed  that while the Castor oil helped `service` the stomach once in six months, the oil bath ritual helped to keep the whole body system cool and the skin glowing. In the South, especially in Tamilnadu, ladies are even now known to apply a generous dose of turmeric powder on their faces on the oil bath days (invariably on Fridays) believing that it would make them look fairer. Instead they walk around the streets looking like patients with jaundice!

It is a pity that the modern day kids are denied the benefits of such periodic rituals! Not only were they of therapeutic value but also brought the whole family together like on a festival day.

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