Memories of Madras – When simplicity ruled our lives

R K Raghavan  

Shifting to Madras at age seven, we lived with my grandfather C.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, deputy director, Department of Agriculture, on the strangely named Abraham Mudali Street, Mylapore. He had a black Hillman car, MDC 373. He'd drop me at Santhome High School, my aunt at Queen Mary's College, and go to his office in Chepauk. At P.S. High School from Form I, I became a favourite with our headmaster V.A. Ramachandra Iyer, who asked me if I had studied in a convent school. This English teacher was famous for giving marks with fractions tagged to the total – 41 1/3 or 52 3/4.

I developed confidence by participating in AIR's children's programmes. What joy to go in a group to the studio, then at Marshall's Road, and be treated to an idli-upma breakfast. Later in Presidency College, what a thrill to see my name on the board of Papworth Prize winners, given for extempore speeches. Sadly, the board is missing now…

As a leg-spinner I was in the school cricket team. Tennis was perceived as a rich man's game. We boys talked, thought, dreamt, watched, played cricket. Discussing girls was not taboo, but cricket excluded them from our minds. I prepared and circulated Indian Cricket a handwritten magazine, mostly all statistics, but how assiduously gathered! Cricket commentators —Vizzy, Pearson Surita, Ananda Rao, Berry Sarbadhikari, Devraj Puri — were household names.

Parents were strict, life was simple, clothes Spartan, luxuries unknown, we cycled or took the bus. The plain Rita vanilla ice-cream for one anna was affordable, not the badam ice-cream for four annas. But mouth-watering sweets and snacks for every festival — including the unique Deepavali marundu — were made at home. Believe it or not, bread — with home-made ghee, and a dab of jam — was fancy food.

Children had to be home by 6.30 p.m., study until the 9 p.m. news broadcast (our huge Marconi radio had to be banged on the head whenever it sputtered, later replaced by a National Ecko). Lights off at 9.30 p.m. Saturdays meant the ritual oil bath; hardly any eating out — a rare film or two. ‘Avvaiyar' proved exciting because my friend P.N. Kumar acted as the child Murugan teasing Avvai with the riddle of ‘chutta pazham'.

Mornings found lawyers, judges and ICS officers walking on the Marina. Turbans were common then, as were Gandhi topis.

The Music Academy's annual festival was held in my school's playground, and music competitions in the school hall. I recall the huge crowds at matinee idol M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar's concert during the float festival at Kapaleeswarar koil. I was not interested in music then, and became impatient whenever our mother tried to snatch time to play her violin.

Rajaji and T.T. Krishnamachari were related, but I met them much later in life. My ‘political' memories go back to sweets distributed on August 15, 1947, and a condolence procession when Sardar Patel died. I attended political speeches at street corners, watched Krushchev and Bulganin driving past roadside crowds, as also the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. Queen Elizabeth rode in an open car on Santhome High Road… Oh, she was pretty!

I was no hero though. The only time I stood for the class monitor election, I secured two votes, one of them my own.

When my classmate V. Vaidyanathan was refused admittance to Vivekananda College for being under-age, his father asked the principal how I, of the same age, had got in. Realising their mistake, the authorities threw me out. I took maths tuition that year, haunted the Connemara library, entranced by Thomas Hardy's imagery of the Wessex county.

I was lucky to have brilliant teachers in college, from tufted, veshti-clad Jagannathachari (Tamil, Vivekananda) to intellectual giant R. Bhaskaran (Politics, Madras University). They left an indelible impression on me.

My father was on the Tea Board, but had many policemen for tennis partners. He decided to make me one. I wanted to study abroad and join some private company. But I ended up with a first rank in the IPS exams.

I was at home in old Madras. Chennai gets on my nerves. And my only regret is that I didn't get to umpire Test matches though I am a qualified umpire.

I REMEMBER I was crazy about Jawaharlal Nehru, and always waited on the road to cheer him during his Madras visits. I was undeterred by policemen brandishing lathis during a on the occasion of a black flag demonstration by the DMK. When Panditji died, I was shattered, unable to imagine India without him. How could we survive? Headlines screamed: after Nehru who? I'd wake up feeling blank, shivering, as though I'd lost a parent.

R.K. RAGHAVAN Born in 1941, he is an M.A. in Politics and Public Administration (Madras University) and an M.S. in Criminal Justice (Temple University, Philadelphia). A Ph.D. in Political Science, he was a Visiting Fellow at Rutgers University and the Harvard Law School. Retiring as Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), he headed Interpol in India, and set up India's first cyber crime investigation cell.

This recipient of the Indian Police Medal for Meritorious Service and the President's Police Medal for Distinguished Service, has authored books ( Indian Police: Planning, Personnel and Perspectives, and Policing a Democracy) and writes a fortnightly column in Frontline. He is presently adviser with Tata Consultancy Services. Reading and Carnatic music are his special interests.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 8:44:52 PM |

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