Once again, I have to sadly record the passing away of another significant contributor to Madras, a nonagenarian this time. Our paths did not cross too often, but when they did there were always two things that K.S. Narayanan left in my memory: one, his ever-present smile and, two, a born raconteur that he was, the stories he’d always have to tell me. Given his personality in company, it is no wonder that he named the cricket team he sponsored from the 1960s the Jolly Rovers. There was a jollier side to life that he always saw.
KSN, another of those from the Deep South who have contributed significantly to industrial development in Madras and Tamil Nadu, first with India Cements and then with the Sanmar Group, will no doubt be remembered in the wider context for that signal contribution. But there are many, certainly most of all his closest friends, who will remember him for his passion for sport, particularly cricket and tennis - and those games of cards for which his friends would gather regularly at his home till almost his last week.
A similar KSN group would meet for tennis at the Madras Cricket Club every morning from six to about 7.30. Once the Club got its lights, they’d be on the courts at 4.30 a.m’! I remember when writing the history of the MCC. he got me out there one morning to meet the gang: Chandra Chellam, Mohan Punja, Jimmy Thambuswami, M.V. Pratap and Bobjee, and a perennial guest, C.C. Ganapathi. KSN was in his late seventies at the time and age certainly did not stop him moving about the court like a younger man.
And it was there that he had yet another story to tell me, just as he had wherever we met. This one was about another tennis fanatic, H.V.R. Iengar of Parry's. When Narayanan met Iengar at a party one day and commented on his long absence from the courts, Iengar told him that his doctor had asked him to stop playing tennis because of his heart condition, “so, I have taken up golf.” KSN in characteristic fashion responded, “But I have heard of more deaths on golf courses than on tennis courts,” and was surprised to be tersely told to “shut up.”
Later in the evening, when they found themselves a quiet corner, KSN wanted to know what that had all been about. And Iengar whispered, “My wife was standing by me. If she had heard you, she would have stopped my golf too.”
On another occasion, when he discovered that I had been in printing, he sat me down to tell me how he started his industrial career by fortuitously getting into printing ink manufacture.
And then he chuckled, “If you ever used Ganges ink, I’m sure it would not have been like when I made Nanco in the 1930s. Ink is not what it was.” Nanco Ink Ltd., instead of Nana & Co, is what he chose to start his industrial career with on Guindy Road, Adyar.
When Ganges Ink from Calcutta, headed by a Norwegian, Emil Fjermos, took over Nanco, there began the family’s connection with Scandinavia.
This narration took place soon after his son, N. Sankar, had helped to resurrect Madras Musings. KSN was one of its most loyal readers. I’ll miss that occasional call from him commenting on one story or another.