Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Remember Sadanand Vishwanath?

I write this as I watch the post-lunch session of the first Ashes Test 2017 at the Gabba. Watching it on Sony Six with the Channel 9 line-up of commentators (plenty of flak for that line-up, of course), my mind goes back to the Benson & Hedges series of 1985-86. I was too young to remember much, but certainly remember the Audi car that Ravi Shastri won. That was also the first time that DD telecast the Channel 9 feed -- I know now not then. I only remember the famous animated duck walk past the screen as the batsmen walked back to the pavilion. That series saw the emergence of a young, dashing wicket-keeper who kept the chatter going behind the stumps -- Sadanand Vishwanath. A Google News search told me what's up with him now. Here's a link:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Let me know if you need help or something like that!

I have spent time as an attendant to a family member on more than a couple of occasions, for at least a fortnight or more each time, and am just recording my thoughts, in a random fashion.

When you are a caregiver, you often get offers like, "if you want help let us know". But how often does a caregiver remember your offer, especially when he or she is caught up with taking care of the patient? How does the caregiver know what kind of help you are willing to offer or whether you are reliable? The burden of providing you with opportunities to help can be too much for the caregiver, especially sitting in an ICU waiting room or a ward with a patient in pain. If you really want to help, show up, find out how you can ease the burden off the caregiver in little ways. And act. Often, you could be offering help just to satisfy your conscience or as a nicety. You move on, once the caregiver says, "Thanks. Will let you know." The caregiver doesn't know if you really want to help or you are just saying the standard line we all tend to use when we don't know what to say.

If your need to help is genuine, you will find ways to do so. If you are also caught up with stuff in your own life and can't offer help, please don't make false promises or offers that one can never count on. Honesty helps. I have not offered help to people on many occasions because I wasn't in a position to do so. Obviously we can't all help everyone all the time.
Be specific in ways you can help. Relieve the caregiver. Let them step out for half a day while you sit with the patient. Call up the person who stays with the patient at night and tell them to take the night off. Tell them specifically what time you can show up. Sometimes, they just need someone to sit with the patient for a few hours if they are getting delayed. You could act as the stop-gap. Go to the caregiver's home and finish off pending tasks like running the washing machine or drying out clothes. Cook dinner for them. Drop them home or pick them up. Ask them if any pending bills need to be paid. Stand in the pharmacy queue and pick up medicines. 

Most importantly, if you are not confident of handling any of this, don't just keep offering vague help and then saying, "but they refused. I offered." 

Make up your mind on whether you want to help out or not, and when, and act accordingly. Your sincerity matters more than anything else. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

An English summer

That was not a bad year after all. How can it be, when London appeared on the horizon, and I lapped it up. That was a great year. Memories of London still stay with me. Until the next time, of course. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

In the News No More - My piece in the Sunday Magazine, The Hindu

My piece on the last two journalists to check out of Fleet Street in the Sunday Magazine of The Hindu

The last newspaper on London’s Fleet Street downed shutters in August, turning the U.K.’s iconic newspaper hub into just another street

It was summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and one half of London’s Fleet Street was awash in sunshine. Long shadows fell on the other. I could see St. Paul’s looming large at the end of the street, but that could wait. It was Saint Bride’s Church that I was looking for.
Famously called the Journalists’ Church, it is still dubbed the ‘spiritual home of journalism’ in the United Kingdom. Still, because Fleet Street, once the hub of the newspaper industry in London and the U.K., is today just a term used collectively for the British press.

The Street has gone pale for decades now, and in August, the last two journalists working on Fleet Street left the building. They had been working at Sunday Post , a DC Thomson publication, which lately closed its London offices.

Darryl Smith, a Fleet Street journalist with 25 years of experience, and Gavin Sherriff, with over 30 years of work, became celebrities. After all, they were the last two to leave the Street, which has a history that dates to the Roman era.

It was in the early 16th century that the Street became associated with the printed word. Wynkyn de Worde, a publisher and printer, set up the first printing press on Fleet Street in the yard of St. Bride’s Church. Why the church, you wonder? Simple. Fleet Street was where the clergy, among the most literate of all classes, lived.

As I steppedinto St. Bride’s Church, all was quiet. There was an exhibition in the Crypt, and what an eye-opener that turned out to be. The Crypt itself was discovered after the Church was bombed during the time of the Blitz (World War II) and the floor of the church was destroyed. The Crypt was excavated in 1953, and it is said that many skeletal remains of those who perished during the Great Plague of the 17th century are contained there.

There are old gravestones, coffins and some engravings and sketches worth a look. One of the exhibits that caught my attention was the front page of The Evening News with headlines about the bombing of the church.

Having taken in the history of the church, I continued walking on the Street to stop at a blue plaque — the first London and English daily newspaper The Daily Courant was published in a house near the plaque way back in 1702. The first issue of the Courant was brought out on March 11 that year. That marked the beginning of the newspaper industry on the Street.

My next stop was the famous Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub that came with huge recommendations. This historic pub, the signage says, was rebuilt in 1667, making it among the oldest in London. The pub finds mention in A Tale of Two Cities as does Fleet Street. Stepping in, I found a dark entrance lit by golden lamps, a fireplace and wooden benches. I ordered my ale and walked down to the cellar full of surprises — old wooden barrels, caskets and vintage bottles all adding charm to the place. To think this was the pub that Sydney Carton leads Charles Darnay to “down Ludgate-hill to Fleet Street, and so, up a covered way into a tavern.” Travel guides invariably recommend a visit to this pub, and although Fleet Street hacks perceive it as “touristy”, the pub is a great experience. I, for one, loved the fries that came wrapped in paper reminiscent of old newsprint.

Talking about pubs and Fleet Street, you can’t help but talk of Michael Frayn’s definitive Fleet Street novel, Towards the End of the Morning (first published in 1967). In his introduction, Frayn writes of how the Street “had its own characteristic smell”. “I can catch the delicious ghost of it in my nostrils now, and at once I’m back at the beginning of my career, struggling to conceal my awe and excitement at having at last arrived in this longed-for land.” He goes on to say that it is not just the smell of newsprint that the Street signified, but the “warm beery breath from doorways with titles above them as familiar as the mastheads on the papers themselves...” Every paper had its own go-to pub, according to Street experts. Printer’s Devil for The Mirror , King and Keys for Telegraph , and so on.

For Sherriff, who calls himself the last Fleet Street chief reporter, the go-to pub was always Cock Tavern. Over email, he tells me, “I remember my early days when all the pubs were full of journalists exchanging gossip. Today we do this via Facebook, Twitter, etc.”

Ask Smith, the other journalist who said goodbye to Fleet Street, about his favourite pub, and he reveals, “It will probably make some of the old journalists who worked on the Street in the past 314 years choke on their real ale if they knew that one of the last two journalists on the famous old Street never had anything stronger than a lager shandy. That said, I did like The Punch Tavern, just because of the history of the place. It has been open 200-odd years (at least) and still has the same frontage as you walk in. I love the history of some of the buildings on Fleet Street. When you see old photos you can make out all the same buildings today, even if they are now sandwich bars, bistros and financial institutions.”

During my walk on the Street, I stopped at an address that said 72-78 Fleet Street (Chronicle House). It is now full of offices; wealth management firms, recruiters, and costs lawyers, among others. I went online and found an old image that says Chronicle House was marked as a public air raid shelter during World War II.

But change is at the heart of all life, and Fleet Street is no exception. After all, River Fleet, which gives the Street its name, is today just a sewer. The character of the Street has seen constant flux, and naturally so. No man ever steps into the same Street twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man, with apologies to that great philosopher Heraclitus.

Savitha Karthik is a freelance journalist, blogger and content writer
based out of Bengaluru.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

London Love

When you love something too much, it becomes painful to even talk about it. That's how it is with London. I just can't muster up enough strength to even look at the photographs, lest they remind me of how wonderful the fortnight in London was. But, am trying, and here are my five favourites for now:

The tube: Tapping the Oyster and walking down the stairs/elevator and then looking this way and that to figure out which is the Westbound and Eastbound. Getting into the train followed by the familiar 'Mind the Gap', watching people in their trenchcoats and their workday faces. Grim, largely, boisterous or chatty, rarely. Getting off nonchalantly and exiting to the street to find sunshine!
Ah, love you London!

Walking the streets: Rain, yes, take out umbrella...oh no, gone, fold it and shake it furiously at a corner like a typical Londoner. Soak in the sunshine. Walk, walk, walk. Oxford Street, Regent Street, Fleet Street, Nottinghill, Piccadilly Circus, Baker Street, Camden Lock, Borough Market, Greenwich, the Mall...just about everywhere.

Sainsbury, Pret-a-Manger, the cafes, the many restaurants: I loved the convenience of just walking into a Sainsbury, doing the self check-out (mostly the husband who became an expert) and walking into a Pret-a-Manger and picking up salads, fruits, shakes...The cafes, the restaurants, (I still think of the salad at the Camden branch of Mildreds), the English breakfast, the scones and teas.

The bookstores: Walking on Charing Cross Road, and randomly stepping into Foyles and marvelling at the books, the sheer range. It somehow made me feel very important browsing through all the books there and later enjoying a coffee at the cafe. Walking in the South Kensington area and stepping into an independent bookstore. Buying a book on Shakespeare's Globe. Checking out Waterstones! Heading to Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street and spending an entire afternoon there, with bits and snatches of conversations in the background. That typical British accent.
Makes me want to go back to London. NOW!

The parks: Kensington Garden, Hyde Park, St James' Park, Greenwich Park...It's amazing that this lovely city has so many green spaces to relax, have a little picnic, go cycling or rest your weary legs after all the walking.

Of course, London meant much more than this, but like I said, there are some things so close to my heart, am even scared to say it to myself. Did I say cricket and Lord's? No, that's for another day. Not ready yet. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Walking down Fleet Street

One of London's most iconic streets, if you are a literature lover or a journalist or anyone who has anything to do with words. That's Fleet Street for you. The St Bride's Church, designed by Christopher Wren, located on this street has a lot of history associated with it. It is called the Jounalists' Church because of its location. Some of London's oldest papers were born on this street. When we walked into St Bride's, it was all quiet. We were the only visitors and the place was being renovated. Yet there was a free exhibition on. We enjoyed looking at old newspaper extracts, the history of the Church, clippings of how the Church was bombed during the WW II, how it was destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt etc. It was next door to this Church that the first printing press in London started to function as well.

Our second stop on Fleet Street was the pub that came with many recommendations in books such as the Lonely Planet. The debate continues on whether it is the oldest pub, but for sure, it is among the oldest. The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub. Established in the latter half of the 16th century. Visited by such greats as Dickens, Mark Twain, Oliver Goldsmith and Dr Johnson. In fact, the pub finds a mention in 'A Tale of Two Cities', one of my favourite Dickens classics. What more did we need? We slaked in and found dark rooms lit by golden lights, an ancient fireplace, wooden benches, the works. That's not it, there are spiralling flights of stairs that take you down under, into the basement. And more surprises. Old wooden barrels or caskets, some really old photographs and old bottles that once contained ale all added to the ambience.

The atmosphere is magical and you begin to wonder how things were in the old days. What did Dickens think of it? What did he drink here etc.

On the way down to the basement, a guy bumped into me, spilling some of my ale. He told me he'd get me a drink, I refused and let that be. A good thirty minutes later, he comes over and gets me a drink. He needn't have done that, and  I told him as much, but he said that he was a nice Canadian and  would have done that because he spilled my drink.

Meanwhile, for company, we had a warm Anerican couple visiting London for a few days, and we hit it off rather well. Over a couple of drinks, we shared our London itineraries and impressions.

Oh and by the way, our fries came in tiny tin buckets lined with old newspaper print sheets!

In the end, a good time was had by all at the Ye Olde Cheshire pub.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Romancing Kolkata

My piece in the Deccan Herald

Romancing Kolkata

It was a humid December afternoon when I landed in Kolkata. As the yellow taxi made its way through labyrinthine roads, I tried to take a deep breath and search for the Kolkata I had imagined from Tagore poetry, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland or Amitav Ghosh’s Flood of Fire. 

I strained my ears for Rabindra Sangeet, bits and pieces of which I had listened to, on the Doordarshan of my childhood. Why, I even looked for the Kolkata of Saurav Ganguly, with the distinct voice of Geoffrey Boycott — “He’s the Prince of Calcoottar” ringing in my ears! 
It became an obsession over the next few days to look for the familiar sights of the famed city I had only seen on television and read about so far. And I found them as well. First, as we walked along the wide footpaths near the Victoria Memorial and the extremely well-curated museum inside. Then, as I walked along Sudder Street and took a turn to enter Mirza Ghalib Street, I chanced on a gramophone playing a melody I couldn’t recognise. My mind was transported to a far-off place and I couldn’t shake myself off, but a hand-pulled cart (another Kolkata image stamped on my mind) passed by, and I had to make way. I even saw the little board on a building compound (Armenian College) that indicated that novelist of the Victorian era, William Thackeray, was born here!

Walking the streets

I repeated the addresses on Chowringhee Lane, even as images from 36, Chowri-nghee Lane, another film I watched as a kid on Doordarshan, kept coming back to my mind. 
Later, as I walked to Park Street and stepped into Flurys, I knew I was entering another venerated Kolkata space. The tea house was started way back in 1927 by a Swiss couple, and everyone who has grown up in Kolkata has a favourite Flurys memory, it seems!
My Kolkata quest also took me to Nahoum’s, a Jewish bakery in New Market, which was started in 1902, and moved to the present address in 1916.

You throw a stone in Kolkata, and it is bound to hit a heritage spot. I gazed at the Writers’ Building, where the clerks of the East India Company once sat, I took in the amazing details of Esplanade Mansion, the GPO building, and even walked into the Eden Gardens. Howrah happened and the picture-postcard-pretty Vidyasagar Sethu. 

Walking on Muktaram Babu Street with crumbling buildings and shuttered windows, I stopped near Marble Palace. The mansion was built in the 19th century by merchant Raja Rajendra Mullick. A guide showed us around the palace, parroting the names of painters and their works, and pointing out design elements, sculptures and objects of art — in the manner of guides I had seen before, speaking on auto mode.

At Jorasanko

But there was one important pilgrimage to be made. And, so off to Jorasanko Thakurbari I went. Finally! Rabindra Sangeet in the background, the beautiful red exterior, its lovely green shuttered windows, wonderful inner courtyard... 

We walked from room to room, taking in the details — the floors, slatted windows, the robes of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the many paintings, the ceiling, terraces with intricate metal work, the red pillars on the exterior and the white interior pillars... Did he stare out of this window? Did he stand on this terrace? Did he write his poems here, I asked myself as I walked from one room to another.  

Jorasanko Thakurbari was where the great poet was born and breathed his last. As I walked along the terraces with the cool floors, I felt as if the very air was heavy with poetry, ideas and musings of the poet.

Coffee & more

My thirst for the Kolkata I imagined also took me to College Street, and the Coffee House, apart from the home of Subhash Chandra Bose, a portion of which is now a museum. At Coffee House, Kolkata came alive. I could feel the magic in the air — this was the hub of Kolkata’s brightest minds. This was where the quintessential adda (hangout) happened. This was the haunt of Tagore and Bose and Ray and every other prominent Bengali one could think of. 

I had finished my coffee and shingara, and it was time to leave, but I knew I had somewhat found the Kolkata I had looked for. Back home in Bengaluru was where I really romanced Kolkata, as I watched the Ray classic, Charulata. Jorasankho was coming alive in a manner it didn’t when I was actually there. On my laptop, ‘Ami chini go chini tomare o go bideshini’, Tagore’s verse sung in Kishore Kumar’s voice, played on loop. “I know you well, oh my lady from afar,” the city itself seemed to tell me!