Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A tribute to Rtn P. Vijaykumar

I was in Cochin on Saturday 9th July, when I got the news about the demise of Vijay Kumar - after a prolonged fight with the dreaded `C`.  Vijay, a Past President of Rotary Club of Madras South was my good friend  for nearly 40 years. Just two weeks earlier I had spoken to him when he was still in the hospital, where he got admitted for  an emergency procedure. He sounded cheerful as he was being discharged  that evening. I promised to meet him the following week. Before I could keep up my promise, Vijay has left this world. I feel miserable for missing my date with him.
I joined Rotary Club of Madras South in  December, 1977 when Vijay was the Vice President. When he became the President for the year 1978-79 he persuaded many green Rotarians like me  to get involved in the activities of  the Club.  He held  several important positions at the District level  in Rotary before he was selected  to lead an all-women  GSE team to RI districts in USA & Canada . Blessed with a deep resonant voice he was a popular MC at our Club functions and also a Commentator at all the events of the Madras Motor Sports Club- a sport which was dear to his heart. He had won prizes  in several car races.  He was also an avid trekker. A fitness freak he was a regular practitioner of Yoga.  During my year as  the president of our club in 1990-91, I produced an A/V film on Yoga, as a service project of the Club for which he not only modeled,  demonstrating  the different Asanas  but also lent his voice for the commentary portion of the film. My year`s Secretary`s report presented in video format had Vijay lending his voice for the commentary.
A charismatic  leader,  Vijay was a tall , fair & handsome, Madrasi -Punjabi ,  whose parents had migrated  to Chennai in early forties . He did his  engineering degree  from the  Guindy Engineering College  and was running his own company called `Accurate products` manufacturing  automobile components.  He was a very popular boss . ever helpful, known for his compassion and love,  His staff   simply adored him!
 He lost his first wife Santosh, a popular member of the Inner Wheel club of Madras South to a  debilitating skin disease. Vijay was a tremendous support to her  during her protracted illness. After her demise  he married Charan. a truly devoted companion who  was a pillar of strength to Vijay in the last leg of his journey in life. His two sons Arvind & Sumith are well settled in USA.
 Vijay was known as much for his wit & humour as for his feats in business and Rotary.. He always said that his years with Madras South were the best years of his life. He left RCMS in 2005  because of his frequent international travels but remained in constant touch with his friends in Rotary. I am going to miss him and his occasional telephone calls , encouraging me in my writing efforts.
May his soul rest in peace!
Rtn PP  R.V.Rajan
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Friday, July 22, 2016

Tamilvanans- II- Brothers in Arms

  There is an old adage in Tamil, ‘ Thaai ettadi paanja, kutty padinaru adi payum`. Freely translated it means if the mother jumps 8 feet , the child will jump 16 feet. Brothers in arms , Lena & Ravi, the multifaceted sons of the legendary Tamil writer Tamilvanan have proved the adage right by taking the legacy of their father to great heights. Lena as a writer & Ravi  as a publisher.
When Tamilvanan died at the age of 51 of a heart attack, both Lena and Ravi had to discontinue their studies temporarily to take over the reigns of the business their father so assiduously built over 30 years. While Lena, with  a Masters degree in Tamil literature followed the footsteps of his father as a writer, Ravi, a qualified Chartered Accountant with a sharp busines acumen took over the family`s publishing business- Manimekalai Prasuram.

Lena remembers that he was only 23 studying for law and already married when his father passed away. While his father was still alive he had written a few essays in Tamil which were published in Kalkandu- a magazine targeting the Youth, of which  his father was the editor.His father not only appreciated his writing but also rewarded him with a small  honorarium.  He never imagined that one day  this small brush with writing will land him an editor`s job when S.A.P.Annamalai, the founder editor of Kumudam , owner of Kalkandu magazine, invited him to take over the editorship of Kalkandu, on his father`s death.  Lena was very apprehensive about stepping into the larger than life shoes of his father, but seeing the confidence that Mr Annamalai had in him, he accepted the challenge. Though initially the circulation dropped from 1,80,00 to 1,40,000, it picked up  when the readers found that Lena was `a chip of the old block` and could dish out informative and inspirational issues of Kalkandu week after week, just like what his father did for 30 years. Within four years the circulation  reached 2,20,000. Lena never looked back  and was to continue as the editor of Kalkandu magazine for the next 37 years until he retired in 2014 .

Lena ensured the continuity of Brand Tamilvanan, not only by wearing dark glasses like his father, but  continued  with  the features made popular in Kalkandu by his father.  He  also introduced new ideas in the magazine.  His one page  essays on self improvement were lapped by a whole new generation of youth. His travelogues, based on his visits to all continents ( except Antartica)  not only were  read with great interest by his readers but also  earned him a prestigious Award from Tanjore Tamil University as the Best Travelogue writer in Tamil. The Q & A feature covering all subjects bagan to appear under a new title `Junior Answers~. He also wrote short stories  and novels. `Meendum Sankarlal` a novel series, featuring the fictitious  detective character Sankarlal made popular by his father , which he wrote were well received. When one of his well wishers asked, ` When do you get the mood to write?` he replied, `There is no question of mood. When I put the pen on paper to write the ideas simply flow`.

Lena has been as popular  a speaker as he is  a writer. His speaking assignments have taken him to all the countries where Tamils reside winning him legion of friends and admirers, across the globe. He  is also associated with the family`s publishing business as the Chairman of the editorial board of Manimekalai Prasuram.  Apart from helping in the  editing of the books published by Manimekalai Prasuram he also helps his brother Ravi in deciding about the choice of books to be published.


Ravi Tamilvanan, younger to Lena by just 15 months is singularly responsible for making the 60 years old Manimekalai Prasuram as one of the topmost publishing houses in Tamilnadu. While his father started the publishing business only to publish his own  books, better business sense  made Ravi decide to extend the reach to cover all authors. 

Ravi recalls an incident in his life when he was just 10. When his father brought home a big bottle of Quink  ink ( Don`t say ink, say quink`) , it seems Ravi remarked, `Appa, by the time you finish writing with this ink, you would have earned a lakh of Rupees, no?`. His father was impressed with his son`s  business acumen and hugged him.  In later years, his father would encourage him to give his views on some of the financial issues  he was concerned with. He had so much confidence in  Ravi`s ability to manage a business, that he asked him to supervise the running of a family restaurant, located in their own complex in Anna Nagar, when the original owner handed over the restaurant to his father as a settlement for some  money owed. Ravi was still in college then and remembers managing the affairs of  the restaurant, after returning from college every  evening. Business was obviously in Ravi`s blood. No  wonder Manimekalai Prasuram has published over 10000 titles over the years covering 6000 authors. 3600 titles are still actively on sale.

While both brothers travel abroad regularly, Ravi`s trips  are strictly business trips for launching new books, organizing exhibition and sale of books.  Among the hundred  countries that he has visited , Srilanka is one of Ravi`s favourite destination. He is proud of the fact that he  has helped Srilankan Tamil writers to publish over 450 books.

Manimekalai Almanac covering 95 years ( 1926-2020) is very popular among Astrologers. Equally well known is the Directory of `Whose who` ` of Tamilnadu, providing contact details of well known people from different walks of life,  published by the group. Among the many awards Ravi has won from the industry. he values the Honorary Doctorate that he got from Washington Tamil University the most.

Both Lena and Ravi have inherited their father`s qualities of charming people with their simplicity, sincerity  and friendliness. They are both highly focused and work hard to achieve whatever they set out to achieve,. On a visit to their home I was amazed to see a joint, well-knit family, living in complete harmony. In these days when nuclear families are the norm. where even children don’t want to stay with their parents, it is heartening to see two brothers` families living together under the same roof  even after their marriages  forty years ago.The contribution of their respective spouses cannot be under-estimated in this successful  joint family experiment.

The brothers take the projection of unity in thoughts one step further. Every day , through a prior understanding, they dress in the same colour outfits, when they go out. Unlike their father who never looked after his health and died young, right from their younger days the brothers have been health freaks. In their early sixties now, both the brothers have serious workouts every morning- Lena plays  badminton and Ravi plays tennis. When some one asked Lena, ` “While you look very  fit for your age, how is it that, your father who preached the world how to live longer died young?` Lena replied,` What my father achieved  in 51 years of his life was  much more than what many people  achieve in 100 years.`

I am sure that the `Rock Star` brothers of the publishing industry will live to see a Century and  cross many more milestones in their lives! Far more than what their father achieved.
( concluded)
This article appeared in Madras Musings issue dt. 15-31 July,2016.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Cooking- An essential Life skill

`Boys as young as six are signing up for cooking classes to pick up an essential life skill` said  an article appearing in  Times of India a  couple of days ago. The same article also quoted a study in USA in 2013, according to which `Men spending time cooking has doubled as against women spending half the time`
I was happy to learn about this because I  strongly believe that everyone, especially men who believe that cooking is a girly activity, must know some basics in cooking- so that they can whip up a simple meal in case of an emergency due to illness or absence of their spouses  from home for any reason.

 It might be a good idea for men  to give some relief to their better halves  at least once a week, when she is spared the tension associated with cooking three meals a day, every day, 365 days of the year!  I was a Sunday cook at home when my wife was alive and after she passed away three years ago, my cooking skill helps me in looking after myself. Besides depending on outside food regularly is not only expensive but also is a health hazard.

I took my baby steps in cooking when I was only 8.  Once  my father was away on office work. My mother could not enter the kitchen because she was `impure`. Since we could not afford to buy food from a restaurant  , she taught me how to cook a simple meal. Standing at a distance she instructed me how to light up a coal fired `aduppu` ( Sigdi), make rice and dhal, and a rasam.  With some roasted  `appalams` to accompany, a three course meal was ready for the family. The appreciation I received for my maiden effort hooked me to the art of cooking at a very young age. Over the years I learnt to cook simple South Indian  vegetarian meals, comprising a variety of Rasams, Porials ( dry  vegetable curries), Sambhar or Vattha kuzhambu or More Kuzhambu ( kadis). I am confident of cooking for 15 to 20 people. 
Unlike modern day girls, who are more than happy to surrender the kitchen to their better halves, my wife, who belonged to the old school, always used to resist my entering the kitchen because according to her I always messed  up the kitchen. So, I had to constantly fight for my right to enter the kitchen.

Since I now have a whole kitchen to myself, without anyone breathing down my neck I have even started experimenting with new recipes. The urge to experiment was there right from the early days. I remember being featured in Femina magazine in June,1984 with` Stuffed idlies` for which I had sent the recipe to the magazine. I was thrilled to find that  my photo, holding a plate of idlies I had cooked  appearing   along side the mug shot of Kushwant Singh, the well known author who had also sent a recipe.

Cooking is a creative hobby and a great stress buster. Like every other soft skill that is being taught, cooking is an essential life skill which every child- boy or a girl- must learn. I  look forward to the day when Basic cooking is taught in schools  as a compulsory subject to be learnt through special classes over the weekend or holidays.  In today`s world where both the husband and wife are working and lead a very stressful life, knowledge of cooking by both helps in sharing an essential responsibility.

(This article has appeared in Adyar Times issue dt 17-23rd July,2016)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tamilvanan`s of Chennai-I - Brand tamilvanan

       A few months ago at a meeting of the South India Heritage series,  Lena Tamilvanan, the elder son of the legendary Tamil writer Tamilvanan,  talking about  his father ,  asked the audience,
“ How many of you know about Tamilvanan and have read his writings`. 

More than half the audience , comprising senior  citizens in their 60s and 70s raised their hands. A  clear indication of  the popularity of Tamilvanan in the `50s & `60s. `A master of all subjects`, as he was known, Tamilvanan had a huge following  among the Tamil reading youth of the time . The impact that he made on them through his motivational and inspirational writings was unbelievable.  He was almost a cult figure. Based in Mumbai, I was also one of those who got hooked on  his writings and adopted  his famous slogan  `Thunivey Thunai` ( Courage as companion), as a`Tharaka Mantram` of my life.  Even my autobiography  is titled  `Courage My Companion`.

Born in a large family of 16 children, at Devakottai in Tamilnad, Ramanathan alias Tamilvanan had to discontinue his studies because of his involvement in the `Quit India` movement  during his student days. He started his working life as general assistant in a  company making `chalk pieces`. His interest in writing got him a job as an Asst editor with  `Grama Oozhian` a magazine edited by Vallikannan. A voracious reader  he  was keenly interested in Tamil literature. This interest took him to Chennai in 1946, where he managed to get a job as an Assistant editor in a children`s magazine called `ANIL`. His column became so popular that he was called `Anil Anna`. While working he was also trying to improve his knowledge of Tamil  by learning at least 10 new words every day under the tutleage of  the  well known Tamil  Pandit V.Kalyanasundaram ( Thiru Vee Ka). The  Tamil word  `Vanan` meaning `a person who lives life` caught his imagination. He decided to combine his love for Tamil with  his zest for life and coined  the word `Tamilvanan` which he wanted to use  as  a pen name for himself. Prof Kalyanasundaram approved of his idea.  He did not know at that time that `Tamilvanan` would  soon become a household name among the Tamil reading public.

When S.A.P.Annamalai,  the founder editor of `Kumudam` weekly was looking for an editor in 1948,  to start a new Children`s magazine called Kalkandu,  he invited `Tamilvanan to come up with his ideas.The dummy prepared by Tamilvanan impressed him so much that he was immediately appointed as the editor of the new magazine.  Though he started as a writer for children, thanks to the total  freedom given by SAP , Tamilvanan  started targeting his writings towards the youth through essays and stories covering a wide variety of topics promoting general knowledge among his readers. The words `Thunivey Thunai`  , his `tharaka manthiram`  was featured prominently   on the front  cover of every issue of  Kalkandu. The Question  &  Answer feature that he started became a big hit so much so that he had to spend a lot of time at the Connemara library to find answers to the sometimes difficult questions posed by his readers. His Answers,  essays and generous sprinkling of useful `tidbits` in the magazine covered topics ranging from  media, religion, politics, literature,yoga, medicine, films and many more. His self improvement  essays giving tips  for improving life became very popular not only with the youth but the entire families. His detective serials appearing week after week, featuring an  unforgettable character like detective`Sankarlal` and his assistants `Kathirikkai` & `Manikkam` became famous. It seems the suggestion for starting a detective novel   came from a reader from Kerala called Sankarlal,  who wanted  Tamilvanan to feature  a super detective like `Sherlock Homes` In his stories. Tamilvanan not only acted  on the suggestion but also decided to call the detective  by the reader`s name –Sankarlal.

While he was gaining  popularity  as a writer/editor he found that he had to do something to improve his finances.  `Manimekalai  Prasuram`, named after his wife was started in 1956 to publish his own books.  While he continued as the editor of Kalkandu for 30 years until his death, he also  published over 500 books during his life time

 Tamilvanan was perhaps the only Tamil writer who consciously built a brand image for himself. Breaking away from the stereo type of a  Dhothi clad Tamil writer with a  Jolna pye and keeping in mind his youthful audience, he was always impeccably  dressed   in white trousers and white shirts in addition to donning a hat and dark glasses  . In fact over a period to time the Hat and dark glasses became his symbols.  It is said that if a reader sent a letter featuring only the hat and dark glasses marked Madras, on the cover, it would reach  him without fail.

He was as popular  as the film stars of those days. Whenever he went  to address any meetings, he was invariably mobbed by his enthusiastic fans. It was not unsual for him to exit through the back doors of the auditoriums after the meetings, to esacape  his  overzealous fans.
Like many  other writers, he also got the film bug. In his later years he tried to dabble in film production. He produced  two films , Tamil versions of two popular telugu films, titled `Pillai Pasam` and `Thudikkum Thuppakki`.  

Tamilvanan was very close to the top political leaders and film stars. Though he knew MGR  well as a friend, he did not hesitate to criticize him through his writings, whenever he felt that MGR was wrong.  This earned the wrath of MGR  and he filed a defamation suit for Rs.2 lakhs against Tamilvanan.  MGR realized that Tamilvanan would not bow down to the threat,  when he published the news as a cover story in Kalkandu. He quietly withdrew the suit. Another big controversary involved Tamilvanan challenging the importance given to `Veera Pandia Kattabomman` as a Freedom fighter, which took the Tamil literary world by storm.  He argued that Katta Bomman was actually known as `Ketty Bommu` and that `Pooli thevan` was the real freedom fighter of the time and not Kattabomman.

Tamilvanan was equally  popular as a speaker .His talks were always laced with humour and insightful ideas. Unfortunately for a man who wrote inspiring and motivational  essays  like  `How to live longer?` he never looked after his own health,  landing himself with a serious heart condition.  He took enormous risk, when he went to pay his respects to his mentor S.A.P Annamalai  on the Diwali Day in 1977, like he always did on every Diwali day though SAP had   offered to visit him  instead  of Tamilvanan visiting him. He was determined to pay his respects to SAP at his house,   much against the advice of his doctor and family .Unable to stand the strain he collapsed soon after he returned home after  the  fateful  visit and died. It was 10th November,1977 and he was only 51.  Among his four children, two of his sons Lena and Ravi had to discontinue their studies to carry on with their father`s legacy, against all odds. How they rose upto the challenge and kept the  brand `Tamilvanan`going makes for interesting story by itself. (To be continued)

Appeared in Madras Musings issue dt.1-15th July,2016

Monday, July 4, 2016

K.S Jayaraman-One Man Army in Rotary

      Remember, you are in Rotary because of your vocation` is the advice that Rt. PP. PHF. K.S Jayaraman of RCMS would like to give Green Rotarians, who are aspiring to move up the ladder in the Rotary World. According to him Family, Job ( Vocation) come before service to society. The concept of `Service above self` the motto of Rotary was instilled in him by his father early in life.
A very active Rotarian for over five decades Jayaraman joined Rotary Club of Mettur Dam in 1963  when he was only 27years old.  A senior Rotarian remarked that he was too young to be a Rotarian and that he would not be able to contribute much.  He proved that Rotarian wrong by his performance in the very first year- He was to become a popular Rotarian not only in his own Club but in the whole district. A past President of Rotary Club of Mettur, Jayaraman single handedly helped start new Clubs in Dharmapuri & Hosur. When he was trying to start a Club in Hosur, he would travel 100kms each way every week for almost a year before the Club became a reality. He used any mode of transport available to undertake the long trip  from Mettur to Hosur & back.- a two wheeler, a car , a bus and  on one occasion when he was late  he even hitch hiked on a lorry to get back home. That was  the kind of commitment he brought to whatever task he undertook without expecting any rewards or Awards! He is proud of the fact that over the years the Hosur Club he started has already sponsored four more Clubs in that city. In Chennai, where he moved in 1984 and joined RCMS,  he  has helped start  three new  Clubs.
Jayaraman does not wait for people to request him to take on responsibilities in Rotary. He volunteers his help if a project or an idea appeals to him. When I was the President of RCMS in 1990-91 and the Club decided to conduct a week long Expo and Seminar on Environment titled `RONEX-90` it was Jayaraman,   with his abiding interest in Environment, , who came up with a detailed plan for executing the idea. As active member in the Scout Movement in the city, he even organized a Walkathon by school students to promote environment consciousness among the citizens. Another project, apart from many others,  that earned him a Distinguished Service award from our Club at the Golden jubilee celebrations in 2010, , was the Dana Bergh Zero Energy environment Centre at Anna University sponsored by RCMS.  Though the project was initiated in 1991, it went through lots of ups and downs. While   Presidents of the Club Changed, Vice Chancellors of Anna University changed it was Jayaraman`s relentless pursuit over 18  years which saw the inauguration of the Rs 45 lakh Dana Bergh Hall of Anna University`s  Energy Environment Centre – a joint project of RCMS with Anna University, on May,25., 2009.
Jayaraman has displayed such commitment to any project that he is involved with over the years. In the last few years he is actively involved in promoting rain water harvesting, green Energy, & Solar Power in District 3230.  Many District Governors have found him to be a very helpful Rotarian to have on their  Community Service Committees. No wonder he has got the reputation as a `Single Man Army!`
Airing his views on Rotary in general he feels that the blind emphasis on growth of membership by District Governors, has resulted in the quality of members joining the movement coming down. He believes that there should be no compromise on the procedure laid out by RI regarding the induction of new members. According to him Clubs having 75 members or less will foster better fellowship and friendship.  He appeals to youngsters to get involved in any of the avenues of service in Rotary that appeals to them. `Don`t join Rotary expecting immediate rewards. First get involved, give your time and resources that you can spare to Rotary. Enjoy Rotary. Results and Rewards will follow. The biggest reward that you can get is the satisfaction and happiness you feel when the project that you are involved is successfully completed and appreciated by others.`
Jayaraman will soon be crossing an important milestone in his life- of  having witnessed  1000 Moons in his lifetime. Yes, he will be turning 80 on 17th August,2016. Though he has become old and his health is playing truants, his spirit is still soaring.  The old saying  `that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak` is becoming increasingly true in the case of Jayaraman. He can still be seen dragging  himself, sometimes with difficulty, to attend important Club or District meetings. Let us all pray God that he  bestow on `this awe inspiring , selfless Rotarian` a long and healthy life so that he can continue to motivate &  energise  the new crop of Rotarians joining the movement.