As part of its celebration of a golden milestone, the Officers’ Training Academy, Madras, this past year brought out an album of memories which, thanks to a chance meeting with its Deputy Commandant and Chief Instructor, Maj. Gen. G. Murali, I’ve just been able to get my hands on. And very attractive, too, it is. No doubt its pages, each filled with a picture or two, will bring back many memories to those who’ve passed out from it over the past 50 years. But not having been privileged to have been one of them, and having long been interested in military histories, I rather missed the stories the institution and its buildings would have to tell.
Commandant Lt. Gen. S.S. Jog, explaining this “graphic compendium,” says that “We live in the times of information overflow. There is a surfeit of material about every institution… (at the) click of a mouse… We frequently see well-intentioned accounts fall flat and failing to capture the reader’s interest, because they end up reproducing the material that is abundantly present elsewhere.” Unfortunately, I don’t play with a mouse and generally rely for information only from what is in my hands. So I missed - even though I enjoyed the vibrant pictures in this pictorial record mainly of life today at the OTA - the stories of the past and the histories that some of the pages could have told.
On the couple of occasions I have visited the Academy, which began as the Officers’ Training School in 1962 and put down firm roots in Madras as the Academy in 1999, I was struck by the heritage buildings in the 670-acre campus and wondered about their histories. The White House, the headquarters of the OTA, a well-maintained vision out of the past like Flagstaff House, the Commandant’s residence built in 1928, it is stated, as the home of the Garrison Commander of ‘the Madras Presidency Army,’ the Old Theatre (for whom, seeing as it looks like a building that pre-dates the OTS, leave alone the OTA), and the Adyar Officers’ Mess, with magnificent interiors, dating back to 1815 when it was built for the Madras Artillery, are all buildings I hope I will learn about more one of these days.
Then there’s the Stone Quarry Lake that has been developed as a perennial lake at the base of a quarried hill “for leisure and watermanship” and a bridge across the Adyar that looks as though it could date from Petrus Uscan’s day. They too must have stories to tell. And all stories are not found in the information overload that’s somewhere out there but not necessarily to hand. But then perhaps stories of the past are not as inspirational as pictures of life at the Academy. Nor, maybe, will they bring back memories of days past spent in it. Pictures, after all, are worth a thousand words, I was once taught. And remembered - till I got into storytelling, which no doubt puts me behind the times.
Sing it as you wish?
Over a recent ten-day period, I had to listen to the National Anthem being played - and sung by those of us who chose to join in - on three different occasions. Curiously, each rendition played at the respective venues, was totally different - and when you heard someone in the audience who could sing, it was yet another rendition joining the medley.
The worst version was the last I listened to. It was a recording that rendered it as a dirge, in fact even slower than a dirge. And with the words being displayed on the screen, even more people than usual wanted to display their nationalism and found themselves ‘reciting’ at a much faster pace than the dirge was labouring its way through. Chaotic was all I could call it. In contrast, the country hosting its National day played a rousing version of its anthem and the few of its citizens present appeared to find no difficulty in keeping harmonious company.
A few days earlier, the Jana Gana Mana version I heard played was not exactly rousing but certainly was no dirge. On this occasion, a person in the audience with a lovely voice sang a rousing version of the anthem, but that had not too much to do with the record, though I, standing beside her, enjoyed this vocalist’s version much more.
And the third occasion had the record - and sound system - offering such a loudly rousing version, the poor singers in the audience didn’t have a chance, even their mumbles quickly fading out.
That the National Anthem is rendered differently from record to record struck me more forcibly during this period because event followed virtually on the heels of event. But, in fact, I’ve heard, over the years, so many other versions recordings being offered. The situation is no different when it comes to the Tamil Anthem.
Surely, the Government - and the nation – can’t countenance all these versions. Can’t it given official approval to a single version and insist that all recordings - whoever the singers or bands are - have to stick to it and that this version is what children should be taught in schools? Surely it's essential at the national (or State) level that we have an anthem that not only has the same words but also SOUNDS THE SAME! As it is, over the years I’ve been hearing these various versions and have not been able to decide whether Jana Gana Mana is a dirge or a rousing call to being proud of national unity.
When the postman knocked…
Bharati's complete works (Miscellany, April 15) were published in three volumes in January 2004, reader K.V. Ramanathan tells me. Varadhamanan Padippagam of T.Nagar issued them as Bharati’s stories, Bharati's essays/articles and Bharati’s poetry, pricing each volume at Rs.60. A companion volume published at the time was Va Raa’s Mahakavi Bharatiar, priced at Rs.20. Even at those prices, I wonder how many copies sold in this State where politicians daily sing of pride in the language. Adding a footnote to my wondering how many really remember the great poet and patriot, reader Mani Natarajan tells me that a senior advocate of the Madras High Court, K. Ravi, has for the past 15 years been organising every December a three-day meet to keep alive the memory of Bharati. The meet is held under the aegis of Vanavil Panpaattu Maiyam, a cultural group started by Ravi. And so we find one more in the city trying to keep the memory of Bharati and his work alive. I wonder how many others there are.
As in the case of publications on and by Bharati, where the crux of the question is not whether they have or are being published but their reach and accessibility, in the case of ancient temple-building techniques and materials, it is not a question of whether there has been “modern” writing on them, but the lack of technical information left by those who lived in medieval times or earlier. I mention this because a reader who ran into me the other day told me that he had seen a 17th / 18th Century book on Tamil temple building with an antique dealer some years ago. Another reader tells me she recently heard a talk by a leading chartered civil engineer and Madras architect, Dr. N. R. Dave, on ‘Planning and Designing of Hindu Temples.’ In both instances, my question remains: What and where are the original sources for these works and by whom were they? Is there anything that seems as authentic as what has been found on the Konarak Sun Temple (Miscellany, April 29) even if it may have been a later re-copy (Miscellany, May 6)
Mea culpa, Suresh Balakrishnan, I let my Olivetti run away with me and C V Ranganatha Sastri became a ‘Rao’ and Freelance Writer became an Editor!