Saturday, May 27, 2017

Friends in old age

At the height of my career I was  guilty of not spending  enough time with my parents when they were living with me in their old age. Though this did not bother my father  (as he enjoyed his own company!), my mother who was a more sentimental and affectionate  person used to beseech me to spend more time with her. But I had no more than 5 minutes to spare for her  every other  day. Life has since come a full circle; today I am in a similar predicament.

Most of us who are senior citizens find that our children have all grown up, married and have their own lives to lead. In some cases the spouses have discovered new hobbies which keep them extremely busy; so many of us are in a limbo not having anybody within the family to talk to, when we  want to. Even if we are living under the same roof in a joint family ( which is rare these days)  the interaction between the young and old at best may be for a few minutes every day. All the communication gadgets, particularly the `over smart phone` has ensured that there is very little `one on one` communication even within the family.

It is in this context that I find that having good friends with whom I can interact on an equal and daily basis has become very important. Though I have always enjoyed people and have a legion of friends and acquaintances, today I realize that my friends have become more important to me  than ever before for any kind of sustained conversation. To share the good and bad tidings in my life…to get useful tips for health issues and   generally unwind myself with a captive audience!

Though I have been walking on the beach road in Besant Nagar for the last 42 years, I had never bothered to befriend strangers crossing my path in the old days. It would at best be a courteous `Hi` and `Bye` to some acquaintances I bumped into!  It is only  after I had completely come out of my active professional life that I started cultivating new  friends  during my walks because I was not in a hurry to get back home.
I interact with two sets of friends  after finishing my morning walk every day. One set consisting mostly of septuagenarians and a couple of octogenarians is the `fun` group. When in full attendance there are 13 of us who not only exchange the latest news about happenings in our families and the society but also indulge in a lot of leg pulling, cracking jokes (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian)   and generally have a hearty laugh.  It is really fun time.

The other group is a little more serious and enjoys the tasty Kumbakonam degree coffee served by the Adyar Saravana Bakery near the beach in Besant Nagar which the six of us in the group take turns to host. A brisk walk  followed by a  dose of healthy laughter and a good cup of filter coffee   sets the right tone for the rest of the day for me. I come back fully charged  to spend an active day ahead; which also involves interacting with a whole set of new friends I have made in the literary world  as a writer, author.
Friends are making a huge difference to my life, post retirement.  God Bless them

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Nit Pickers

             My friend Sunil  suffers from what some people call `obsessive, compulsive disorder`. You may call him fastidious and finicky.   But he considers himself to be a perfectionist. He cannot stand disorder at home or in the office. He is  paranoid about ensuring that everything is in the right place. You can see him constantly arranging & re-arranging  things in his  office . His table will be always spic & span.  At home he will ensure that every piece of furniture and artifact on display  is  in its rightful place. He cannot a stand even a speck of dust on any of the objects - you will find him with a small duster with which he will be constantly cleaning the objects on display. Very often visitors to his home or office will find themselves in embarrassing situations.
If any guest picks up a paper weight on his table and starts fiddling with it , you can see him becoming tense. He will not hesitate to snatch the paper weight from the visitor and put it back in place. He will be horrified if the guest starts moving around the office to pick up anything without his permission.

I was at his home one Sunday evening. A friend of his dropped in with his three year old son in tow. Obviously Sunil was not expecting them. The moment he saw the mischievous looking boy he became   anxious. When the boy ran to pick up something that caught his imagination from a table nearby, Sunil became edgy.  He rushed to the boy and gently removed the object from his hand and replaced it in its rightful place. When the boy started running around the house Sunil  became panicky . He started screaming at the boy.  `Don`t run.. you will knock that vase down… please don`t touch that…  you will break that glass`. He was restless. He pleaded with the boy`s father to keep his son under control. The boy`s father and I were speechless at Sunil`s  behavior. We could not have any conversation with him as his attention was totally focused on the boy.  Realising the stress that he was causing to Sunil, the father of the boy dragged his son and left the house without even bidding goodbye.  Instead of feeling guilty I was surprised to see the sense of relief on Sunil`s face.

My father was also fastidious in his own ways. He had earmarked his dinner plate, drinking glass which he would  store in a particular place in the kitchen  to be accessed only by him.  If his children or grand children inadvertently picked up his plate or glass, he would flare up. It was customary for him to wash the dinner plate & the drinking glass several times before they were  used- even if they  had already been  washed  before being placed on the dining table. Anyone who tried to disturb his carefully stacked unread books and magazines on his table would have hell to pay. 

I am sure all of us have come across people with some quirk or the other. While many of them can be categorised under the harmless category those who are too fastidious tend to hurt people easily with their nit picking ways. 

Published in the Adyar Times issue dt. 14th-20th May,2017 under my column `Rajan`s random reflections`

Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Fairs & Literary Festivals

A  news item in a daily quoted the President of South India Publishers Association saying that 80% of the visitors to the  book fair  held  in Chennai consisted of youth. According to the report 60% of the annual sales of small publishers come from such fairs. No wonder that such fairs are becoming popular even in smaller towns in India.

In the last few months I have attended Literary Festivals  in Bangalore &  Chennai.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the huge turnout of visitors, consisting mainly of youngsters in the age group 18-35. A large number of them were attending the three parallel sessions being held at the fairs. During the breaks there were long queues of youngsters waiting to get the books of their favorite authors signed by them.
I wondered what has triggered this great enthusiasm among the youth for books; disproving the theory that reading habits among the younger generation  is going down. I am inclined to give credit for this to the success of Mrs. Rowling and her Harry Potter series of Fantasy fiction and our own banker turned author and a youth icon- Chetan Bhagat.   Chetan  has literally re written  the way the publishing industry has been functioning in India.  For a long time a book was considered a big success if it sold 5000 to 10000 copies. But today the new age  authors like Chetan Bagat, Amish Tripathy, Ashwin Sanghi, etc are claiming  sales  of lakhs  copies for each of their books. It is interesting to learn that all the famous  authors of today  had their first manuscripts rejected by several publishers and had to resort to self- publishing their first book and market them using innovative  marketing strategies. Listening to many of these successful authors  at Literary Festivals, it is clear that if an author wants to be on the best seller list he has to market his book `shamelessly`. It is imperative that such authors must be active on social media.   Self publishing & Print on demand have brought about a sea change in the publishing industry. 

Another reason for the huge sale of books is the facility to order the books online and get them delivered at your door step- very often at a  discounted price! Amazon & Flipcart have been hugely responsible for this phenomenon and are very popular with the young generation who order everything-` from pin to elephant` including books, online.

No wonder that the number of Indian authors is growing by leaps and bounds. People from diverse fields, including school students are trying their hands  at writing.  Recently I attended a function organized by TIE in Chennai   at which books of 9 first time authors were released. They had participated  in a Book Authoring  workshop conducted by Kirubha Shanker  considered as the  Czar of social media.  The nine successful authors who had accepted the 100 day challenge of Kirubha included  an  8 year old girl and a 12 year old boy. I was also happy to note that 80% of the audience at the function consisted of youngsters who were keen to participate in such workshops.

Book Fairs, Literary Festivals and book authoring workshops are surely encouraging the youngsters to take to reading and writing seriously. What does it matter if they read books on their mobiles or tablets!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

C.R.Narayana Rao (CRN)- Engineering to Architecture

It seems when North Madras was reeling under a severe flood in the  early 40s causing extensive damage to the properties in the area, the compound wall of one site was standing firm. When S.Ananatharamakrishnan the legendary founder of the Amalgamations group decided to find out the name of the engineer who built it, he discovered CRN whom he promptly appointed as the designer of his next factory. That was the beginning of an engineer, establishing a firm of architecture and construction in 1945 , which was to build a big reputation in the years to come.

Today `CRN` is a well known  name in the world of Architectural designs and Construction management. Headquartered in Chennai this 72year old firm has been serving clients not only within the country but also across the globe. The list of their clients include the `who`s who` of the industry.

The credit for laying the foundation for this  very successful venture must surely go to the visionary founder of the company C.R.Narayana Rao.  Born in a middle class family  in Coimbatore,  CRN  graduated from College of Engineering, Guindy   as a Civil Engineer in 1935. His first job was with the PWD. Later he joined a British  firm Jackson & Barker where he built his reputation as an   Engineer with keen eyes for  architectural detailing. 

Starting with just 20 employees,  today the company has a staff of over 400 qualified professionals from diverse fields  related to the construction industry- architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers etc.  In addition to the Chennai office it has branches in Bangalore & Hyderabad.

What is the secret of the phenomenal  success of Narayana Rao, who was just an `Engineer`, the term by which  he was popular in his company, who could build a firm of such repute? It was his ` Social & People skills` say his family members. In a field dominated by his peers in the industry who believed in aggression in dealing with their work force and their working style, Narayan Rao was well known for his self effacing humility. This did not stop this `Engineer` from demanding the highest technical competence from his staff,  never to suffer a poorly drafted drawings or substandard  execution of  projects. 

The first three decades of the firm`s existence coincided with the industrialization of India. With its expertise in industrial architecture the company was associated with prestigious companies of the time like Dunlop, Amalgamations Group, TI group, Ashok Leyland, Ennore Foundries and the Rane Group. Specialising in Prefabricated roofs, the company considers the unique roofing structure it designed  for Ennore Foundries as one of its pioneering efforts. In the early 70s the company added the TVS group, Madras Fertilizers , MRF and a few educational institutions thus expanding its design and project expertise.

 It was around this time that the company decided to extend to the  Middle East. CRN`s overseas branch, acquiring a new name ` C.R.Narayan Rao ( Consultants) Private Limited `, to satisfy the local legal requirements, successfully executed several commercial, industrial and housing projects in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khamiah. This first ever overseas operation by any Indian Architecture firm was dismantled  after 10 years to cope with exploding opportunities in India resulting in  the company adding to its portfolio,  prestigious corporate offices, Hospitals, Shopping malls and educational institutions. Since  the demise of Narayana Rao in 1982 the two highly qualified sons of Narayana  Rao- Dr. C.N.Srinivasan ( a Phd in Engineering ) and C.N. Raghavendran  not only ensured that the legacy of their father was preserved but adapting to the changing needs of the time have taken the company to greater  heights.

They started acquiring business from the Government, both local and Central. They also made their presence felt in the Sports facilities sector having designed  six sports stadiums  of international standards not only in India but also abroad. The Cricket Stadium they built in Guyana, in West Indies  is as much a testimony for their expertise in the field as the Nehru Stadium in Chennai and the Foot Ball Stadium in Cochin. 

The nineties also witnessed the opening of the economy  and explosion of information technology.CRN was the firm privileged  to build the first `Tidel park` in the country in Chennai. Both Srinivasan and Ragavendran  are champions of Green buildings resulting in their building huge complexes for almost all leading IT companies like TCS, Infosys, Wipro in many parts of the country-   all projects acquired by them against stiff  competition from International Architectural firms.

When the prospect of the big automobile companies entering India became imminent the Company made a blind pitch for the business from `Ford` in USA.  Not only did they win the pitch, the successful implementation of the Ford factory project in Chennai led to the company being invited by other leading multinational automobile firms like Hyunadi, BMW, Toyota, General Motors and Renault  to build their factories. 

Nineties also saw the entry of the third generation of the family in  the business. It looks like the six members belonging to the third generation of the family are working in total harmony under the benevolent leadership  of the Septuagenarian sons of the founder. I understand the fourth generation is already knocking on the doors.

 The Founder Mr.Narayana Rao was a highly religious person.  As a Madhwa Brahmin he was   actively involved with Madhwa Mutts and had won recognition for the services he rendered to the Community.  His sons,  however, believed in concentrating on Industry bodies like BSI, CII, Green Building Congress etc.  The third generation  is active in working with civic authorities on issues of urban interest.

Among the Awards that the company has won is  the `Intelligent building of the year2005` award given by `Intelligent Community Forum` - a  U.S.based research  organization for their project `Ebene Cyber Tower` at Mauritius which was inaugurated by Dr.Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister of the country. Nehru Stadium  which was the first column free stadium built in the city,  got the prestigious Indian Institute of Architects Award for `Excellence in design`  for Public building category for Raghavendran in 1995.  The Cochin stadium got him recognized  as the `Architect of the Year` on an all India basis in 1996.  Raghavendran was also conferred the `Padma Shri` award by the President of India in January ,2011.

A company with excellent credentials and a good succession plan like `CRN` is sure to witness its Platinum and Centenary celebrations in the years to come!