Al-Avalathi's Life (Al-Avalathi is the last Mallu to go to the Gelf)
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Signs of the times

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Nelson Mandela would never know that I had signed on a paper to free him from prison. I did not know how to sign. Nor did I know Nelson Mandela. No. I actually did know him. He was all over the newspapers then.

The whole class assembled under the shade of a tree. Someone started a song, “Mandela Mandela, Nelson Mandela..”. We shouted those words at the top of our voices. Manjula teacher, my class teacher in Class III asked all of us to write our names against the numbers. That was a signature campaign- the first I participated in. Empowerment, ego massage and such happened. You may call it by any name. It may not have been willingly; I did not have a choice. That was the first time I put my signature.

No. Not really. Two years before this,the same teacher had made us start savings a/c in the nearest SBT. All of us had to give her Rs.5. She did the rest. Signatures were ours. That passbook is still a prized posession.

We were growing up. Writing with pen was no longer a luxury and was officially permitted. Hours were spent testing every Hero pen. Signature was used heavily to smoothen the nib and also to kill time. Going back to signature campaigns, I tried one such along with Sajith. This was to impeach a friend who was then the school deputy pupil leader. We managed signatures of many kids. We were in XI. VI or VII class kids were very sweet. Signatures were just chocolates away. That campaign had a premature death. Rather, was killed by Jaggu, the acting Principal. We failed to understand why she could not be impeached. Jaggu did not believe in democracy. What other reason can I think of for threatening to suspend us?

1989 was marked the centenary celebrations of Nehru’s birth. Our text books had a few lines on(by) Jawaharlal Nehru. His initials were my favorite. The J and H connected by a loop and an inclined line that fell backward. Many a bottles of Chelpark were spent on these initials. There was Gandhiji’s Talisman too in our books. I had no clue what a Talisman meant. His signature was tough to copy.
I didn’t have to forge dad’s signature to get Progress Reports signed. Throwing tantrums after dad left for work was enough to acquiesce mom to signing. In fact, there was one instance when I had to put dad’s signature. It was the last day to send the CBSE Medical Entrance application and dad was out of town. I had to.
Apart from this, I would have practiced a lot on RN Malhotra’s signature in Hindi. During the times when I started noticing RBI Governor’s signatures on currency notes, it was this gentleman all over. Ra Na Malhotra was an interesting signature to attempt in Hindi. The lower denomination notes (Re 1, Rs 2) had Finance Secretary’s signature. Manmohan Singh was still in circulation.


From simply writing my name to finding the best N from calligraphy books, the sign has come a long way. Deciding between dotted and circular tittles or the choice of using my second name or part thereof, confusions have been plenty. This change can’t be done overnight. If you do, your next credit card purchase may be annulled for suspected fraud.

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February 21, 2010   8 Comments

Letters after my name

It was yet another very ordinary day in school. I was in class VII. It was lunch break time. When my class teacher asked me to go collect a letter that had come in my name,my excitement just grew beyond what I could handle. Food was not what was important. I ran into the Staff Room.

Alas, it was just a post card. It was a returned letter. Damn you!, Manorama year book. How could the French Consulate’s Chennai address given in it be wrong? My post card asking for tourist brochures and such colorful sheets for a Social Studies project boomeranged. Ya, I know that a boomerang *reaches* the target and then returns,whatever.

The US Consultate address in the year book was not wrong. They sent me loads of information. Yes, loads of information indeed. On history,politics,the presidential campaign(Bill Clinton was running for POTUS then), maps and lots more. That was the time when I learnt that mailing embassies and consulates was the easiest way to handle these school projects.

Those were the days when postcards meant the 15ps ones and not the Rs 2 worth Competition Post Cards. Like many others of my generation, I did play a huge part in the introduction of Competition Post Cards. Who can blame us for sending replies to Siddharth Kak and Renuka Shahane,every week,without fail.

This is much after I started writing letters to companies, and responding to all the contests that came in newspapers and magazines.

Respond to every single contest that comes my way be it in a newspaper or on a product wrapper. Not just contests, I was slightly overboard about writing letters to these companies.
My ideas as a kid was, oh-my-god-my-name-has-reached-[any City]. So, I replied to contests; my name went to Madras,Bombay,New Delhi and beyond. Some sent token gifts like key chains,caps and such.
There used to be this puzzle that came as a newspaper insert. An easy puzzle for any school going kid. Many boxes, many numbers. Fill in to make the sum same diagonally, row/column-wise etc. The prize for this one came by VPP, I never accepted that. Oh yes, it used to be a TV but had to pay some ‘nominal charges’ to receive the prize. That would have been a huge box with trash, I am sure. The prize came from Ahmedabad.
How can I forget those Otto Burlington magazines which had suggest friends [Addresee Pays] cards and I could easily make Otto Burlington send those magazines to all my cousins and neighbours. ;)

And those Reader’s Digest forms. Suggest 20(?) more people and get a Handbook of Word Origins for free, or one of such books. Again, many neighbors actually fell for the letters that read “N Narayanan has suggested your name” and subscribred to RD hoping to win prizes. The prizes were blocks of gold. All you need to subscribe to RD was to stick that *Yes* stamp and send the letter back. VPP was RD’s favorite too.

The earliest of such letters was to Home Lites. They were the ones who brought out huge match boxes, twice as big as a pencil box. I somehow felt their match sticks sparked before they lit up. I was in class III then. I told this to dad. He asked me to write a letter to them. I did. I distinctly remember the four-lined-note book, the Class Work as they used to call then. I tore a sheet from that to send a letter to an adddress that had Wimco Matches and Ballard Estate in that. No, I did not Google this now. :) Did I say that I wrote the letter with pencil? They never replied.

I was always curious to know the “Made in” and manufacturing and expiry dates of products. That I still do. It was when I noticed that a biscuit pack had manufacturing date from the future, I realized that the whole point of dates were idiotic. I don’t recollect the brand; was that Bakeman? It was during the Mahabharata days and this brand’s TVC had Gufi Paintal in it as Shakuni. I remember writing to them. Completely forgot if they replied or not.

Then, that Maggi Club membership I managed after sending a few wrappers. The Candico guys who wished me on my birthday and asked me for suggestions. No body told me they were surveys. The hundreds of contests in Balarama and Tinkle…Learning the word ‘early bird’ from these contests…The card that Eveready sent me with autographs of the Indian team sometime around the B&H World cup ’92…

Talking about contests, how can forget the H,M,T and dots on Re1 coins. You collect 1 each of H,M andT and 2 coins with dots to win an HMT watch. Not sure if someone ever won a watch. The exchange 5 empty (Milma) milk packets for a lucky draw coupon to win a truck load of gold offer,aah!. The immense effort in convincing mom to chuck Kannan Devan and buy AVT Tea for the Swarnadhara Coupons inside. The surprise element in opening the packet. The discount of Rs 2 or 5 that I eventually ended up with. Those days. :|

I kept writing letters. Letters to newspapers and magazines. Some were published. Some weren’t worthy of.

Update: I completely forgot about the Goldspot, Thums Up and Limca bottle cap collections, the collection of plastic animals that came free with Cibaca etc. This post was more like a memory test, and so my failure in recollecting these things are way more than pardonable. :D

PS: Malayala Manorama dated 3rd Jan,2010 printed some words written by me. Online edition

PPS: If numbers matter in this world, then this is published post #200. :)

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January 14, 2010   28 Comments

Asato Ma Sat Gamaya

11 years is a long time, but the memories of school are still fresh. Every day started with the assembly. It was part obligatory, part duty, to attend. Through the years, the liking for it grew down exponentially. Whatever, it had a fun element which I miss now; the discipline, the order, saavdhaan and veeshraam, the pledge, the prayer…I miss them all.

Half the time during a year, assembly would be washed away by the rains. Then, the PA systems took control and brought order in chaos to the classrooms where the sounds of Asato Ma Sat Ga Maya wafted through the rooms filled with wet umbrellas.

I never realized the purpose of singing these songs, the prayer, the patriotic songs, the National Anthem etc. Leave the purpose, most of us did not understand the meanings of these songs.(The national anthem’s English translation was there in the school diary, but who would read that. :D)

Why was taking the pledge or singing the National Anthem mandatory, that too daily? Come to think of it, most of the school assembly was aimed at building one’s love for the nation. Why else was I taught patriotic songs in many languages? No, I am not complaining. I still can sing the Assamese song Ye Matire,moro mote… :-) It doesn’t end here.

The melodious Tamil song Odi Vilayaad Paapa, Pillallara Paappallara, the Telugu song with extended hums in between lines….the Kannada song Cheluvina Muddina Makkale, with mmmmm Cheluvina, ooooo Muddinna after every line…aah! writing this I am taken to a different era. No day was complete without the daily dose of news that was read out in the assembly; those days where every morning a new thought for the day was fed into our brains…book reviews and what not!

The Marathi song Aata Udhao Saare Rann, with its conspicuous na sound in Rann… I must have memorized the Sindhi song Muhijo Vatan years before I knew where Sindh was (Okay,I knew about Sindhu Nadi Sabhyata).The Gujarati song, Aakasha Ganga Surya Chandra Taara Sandhya Ushaaa koi na Nathee had to be sung in a tune that could be replicated easily by a tape moving at 0.5X, while the Sanskrit song was Om, Sanghajatwan Samwadatwam…..was very prayer like.

Old KV Logo

Old KV Logo

The set of Hindi songs from the classic Saare Jahan Se Acha to Hum Honge Kaamyaab(and it’s English version, We shall overcome) and Yeh Waqt Ki awaaz hai milke chalo to the very very slow Hind Desh Ke Niwasi Sabhi Jan ek hai…were not as interesting as the non-Hindi songs, to me at least.

The school anthem, Bharat ka swarnim gaurav Kendriya Vidyalaya layega was another song that crawled through the assembly,once a week.

The main prayer song was Daya Kar daan Vidya, which I realized was in Hindi much later. No wonder I created newer words and unwanted pauses in the already badly tuned song. You won’t believe, Paramatma, word in the song was always Para…maa..tmaa for me.

There was the Malayalam song Janmakarini Bharatam which was sung rarely. What about Kashmiri, Bengali and Punjabi?…I don’t even remember if we were taught them in our Music classes.
I can go on and on, I can even start singing.No, I spare you :D

Update: Pages from a KV school diary(with these songs) can be found at [ZIP FILE containing the images]

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July 1, 2009   101 Comments