Archive | Retro RSS feed for this section

Telegram Service to Stop in India: Some Childhood Memories

13 Jun

Telegram will soon be history in India! In fact, practically it was already dead with the likes of telephones, fax machines, mobile phones and e-mail services gradually taking over its place across the past three decades or so. As a matter of fact, I was really surprised when I read the news today that the public sector giant, BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd), still operates this service though only about 5000 telegrams are being sent every day – down from million in the past. To be frank, I had really forgotten about the existence of Telegram and hence when they announced the decision to discontinue the Telegram service in India by July 15th, 2013, I was like ‘Who cares?’. But then, I started to recall a few good old memories from my childhood days where the Telegram service played a significant role in our lives – though not on a daily basis. It was indeed, ‘the fastest and affordable one-way messaging service’ at some point of time in the history after making its debut in the British in the middle of the 19th century.

Telegram in our lives!

Having brought up in a village background, I definitely have a couple of childhood memories to share about telegrams. I am talking about late-seventies to early eighties when I studied in our government primary school which was very near to the village’s own post office. This post office (Dak aur Tar Ghar which later became Dak Ghar alone) was a very old building that leaked during the monsoon rains and it hosted two staff members – A postman and a post master. My first memories about the telegraph equipment are from this Post office where our post master was always busy punching into it. And this mystery equipment produced random ‘tic-tac’ sound that was kind of nice to listen to. The only other sound from that building was his colleague slamming the heavy brass seal on all those letters to be delivered during the day. I clearly remember that both of them chewed Paan throughout the day. The postman’s face is still in my memories though I am unable to recall the face of the post master – the superman – who handled the telegraph.

Most of us – the school going lot – would invariably stop by the post office just to watch and listen to the proceedings inside by standing near a rusted window that doubled as the stamp & envelope vending counter.

Telegram = Either GOOD or mostly BAD news

During that ‘ancient era of telecommunication’, the normal mode of messaging was writing a letter that would take several days to reach the recipient. The senders can procure a ‘kavar’ (Stamped envelope) or an ‘illant’ (Inland Letter Card) from the post office to write and send their letter or snail mails as they are called today. These mails usually included kilometers of writing that oozed affection and everything that had to be conveyed between two loved ones or families since their last communication.

A telegram on the other hand had the purpose of ‘quickly’ communicating a few words across to your people who are staying away in another place – in a different district or state. Unfortunately, this mechanism was used mainly to inform about the events of death (which was probably the only urgent matter then?) in the family and hence the arrival of a telegram was always looked at as a dreaded thing – invariably someone at home would faint as soon as a telegram arrived – even before its content is read out. This aspect of the telegram has been depicted in comedy scenes of many Indian movies and if I remember correctly these important telegrams were sometimes delivered even after regular office hours.

Telegrams always conveyed concise and direct message when used for happy purposes such as wishing people on their achievements, marriage, wedding anniversary etc or even to communicate job offers by companies where there wasn’t much time left to report. However, when used for conveying the death of a loved one, it always contained diplomatic words such as ‘serious’ or ‘unwell’. So if someone gets a telegram that read ‘Grandfather serious, Start immediately’, it usually means that grandfather has already expired. And the neighbors of the deceased could always predict the arrival of someone who received the telegram when a spike of scream originates from the particular house – this can sporadically happen a few days after the death as and when the telegram recipients arrive one by one.

My experience with Telegrams

During my middle to high school days, I used to go to the post office to send ‘grams’ on my father’s behalf. Most of the time, the purpose was to congratulate or wish some of the newlyweds in his circle – typically his past colleagues from his transferable job postings. It was an easy task for me as he would have mentioned the greeting code to pick from the published list, fill it in a small form along with recipient’s address. Sending a digit code that finally translated to a one-sentence message was something that amazed me then. And, my father always used to pick his favorite greeting code that translated to ‘May Heaven’s Choicest Blessings be showered on the young couple’. As a matter of fact, his diary (and most printed diaries then) had these telegram codes printed, on their annexure pages, which was later replaced by STD codes of cities. And I do not even know what occupies that place now!

As I grew, I understood that it was Morse code that does the trick of transmitting these coded messages. When I was in 9th or 10th, a couple of us together built our first telegraph equipment prototype for a science exhibition – Telegraph really played its part in the life of millions of Indians from our generation and a couple of generations before ours as well.

And today, just like many other things from the past, the telegraph is going to be part of history books alone.

RIP Telegraph!

10 Yesteryear Indian Brands that I am emotionally attached to

5 May

As I age, I get a feeling that I am becoming more and more nostalgic about the simple life, limited number of options and opportunities that were present, good food, clean environment, closer interactions with people and less of noise and emissions that electronic-mechanical machines cause. The recent trip to my hometown has already made me even more wistful, in fact. However, ‘change’ is must for the humanity to progress and …sigh… I have to live with the present.

As for my childhood to college life, I have so many things to share some of which was mentioned in a recent post on this blog. Today’s post is about some of those great brands and products that have been part of our lives during the 70s and 80s. Of course, some of them are still being produced and sold but have transformed for good while many of them have been discontinued. Here are the things that I am talking about:

1. Parry’s Green hard candy

Unfortunately I do not have a picture of this but I am sure anybody in their 30s and 40s must have eaten whole lot of them during their childhood. These candies – known as ‘Green Parry’ (‘Paccha pyaari’ in Malayalam) – was among the four or five wrapped candy options that we had at that time apart from those local made ‘uncovered’ ones. I remember, Parry’s competitor Nutrine introducing an imitation of the same several years later.

The Parry’s Confectionery ltd company was taken over by ‘Lotte ’several years back and this particular product has been discontinued since then, I believe.

2. Hero Pens

As far as I am concerned, this is the ONLY Made in China product that I have ever liked in my whole life and it was my first Chinese experience as well. Unlike today’s children, we never got to use the ball point penhero-fountain-pens until the age of 12 (or sixth grade) on account of ‘bad hand writing’ resulting from ball point pens. Most of us started our writing with cheaper ‘Bismi’ or ‘Jubilee’ fountain pens and then progressed to using the Hero Pens (fondly called ‘Heero pena’ In Malayalam. Many of us in fact get to use it only for exams – for some not until the SSLC examination – and it was indeed a super smooth experience to use them. Mostly people used to get these pens as gifts from those who worked in the Gulf countries but later on they were available in shops for Rs.25 or so in stationery shops.

The hero pens were cool due to their smooth quality of writing and the ability to fill ink via a cool press-suction operation. Old time pens had to be filled via direct pouring of the ink and we used to end up having the ink spilled on the floor as well as on our shirts.

As I moved to college, the Hero pen gave way to Pilots, Parkers and Sheaffers but the Hero fountain pen was always my hero!

3. Happy T-shirts

Now, this one is tricky and probably only Malayalis will understand what I am talking about. During those days mostly there would be at least one Keralite from every other household working in the Gulf countries (Generalized as ‘Persia’) and they make a visit once in every four or five years. At that time, everyone in the family – to the n’th relationship level – neighborhood and the village need to be gifted something or other. Cigarettes, cheap perfume sprays and synthetic clothe material or saris that will last beyond five generations were some of the cheaper options to keep everyone happy. Among these gifts, the kids usually gets the so-called “Happy T-shirt” which is nothing but a round neck T-shirt made of cheap synthetic fabric and a big H A P P Y written on it in a semi circle. We kids were, indeed, very happy to get them as gifts and would proudly wear them till they wore out. Those who wear Happy Tees were identified as the Gulf fellow’s son or relative.

(Several years later somebody revealed to me that a dozen of them would cost only something like 5 Dirhams or so and that’s how the poor Gulf Malayali could afford to buy them for everyone of our age group in that village. By the way, I do not know the actual the brand name of this T-shirt but it was always known as Happy shirt)

4. Chelpark Ink

chelpark-ink

Chelpark Ink - New style bottle

Of course, the usage of fountain pen would mean daily refill of ink in the same. When we were in fourth or fifth grade, we used cheaper “Brill” or “Camel” brand of ink. At that time my father was using a Sheaffer’s pen and he used to buy this blue-black ink by Chelpark. It was super quality ink for the Indian standards and I believe it’s still being produced in India. However, the original wide-bottom glass bottle is missing now.

I used the Chelpark ink for several years, I would say till I got my first job but had totally forgotten about it until my co-brother Manoj reminded me of that brand last week. In fact, that was the inspiration behind this post.

5. Camel instrument box

The camel brand of math instrument box is no brainer. Camel is still a leading brand in India for stationery and art-craft supplies. However, during our school days it was something big and getting a Camel box was an ultimate achievement in one’s otherwise limited wish list. Some of us get them during fifth or sixth grade and had to use the same till you pass out of 10th standard. Many times, the original paper sleeve wrapper around the box would be preserved intact for many years in order to protect the precious box from losing any of its print work on the surface.

For those who couldn’t afford to spend two rupees more, there were brands like ‘Nataraj’ and the twin-brother of Camel was the ‘Camlin’ brand of instrument boxes.

6. Premier rubber slippers

paragon-hawai-chappal

Paragon Hawai Chappal - Premier looked something like this

Lungis and Dhotis were the perfect clothing (and it still is for many) for Malayalis due to the sultry climate conditions and rains aplenty. The perfect footwear that goes with them was a pair of ‘Premier’ rubber slippers. I believe, I am recalling the name right because before brands like ‘Paragon’, ‘Fisher’ etc surfaced, it was all about Premier Hawai chappals. I am attaching a picture of the currently available Paragon slippers to give you an idea of how Premier looked like. But I guess, Premier brand is not available any more.

Talking about these Hawai chappals, most Malayalis wore them to school, colleges or even to work. And like their ultra white dhotis (Mundu), these slippers used to be maintained ultra clean was well. The jobless and educated mallu’s main hobby – apart from discussing international politics and Hartal or Bandh opportunities – those days was cleaning own slippers not just from the top but from sides and bottom as well.

I have used this brand of slippers for many years and I still have a pair of Paragon at home.

7. Murphy radios

murphy-valve-radio

Murphy Valve Radio (Image courtesy: vintage-radio.com)

Now, this should ring the bell for all because many Indian families must have had one such Murphy or Philips vintage radio until recently. These were known as ‘valve sets’ which requires quite some skill to tune it to the right frequency and several precautions for proper maintenance. Many of the featured a green dancing light valve that can be seen outside and moves according to the tuning procedure. The frequency needle – mostly sitting at a centimeter or two away from the actual frequency numbers and usually dangling – had to be carefully positioned to get the right radio station and its position usually is not the same when you tune from left as compared to the right. Basically only the owner of the radio and most likely only the elder male member of the family could tune it to perfection.

These radios also had external antenna fittings and sometimes sporting a long mesh antenna – stretching from one end of the house to the other – was considered something royal. Due to issues in tuning or reception, most of the radio stations then used to sound like the distant Ceylon station. The cold starts used to be almost impossible and needed some heating via incandescent bulbs and occasional taps (out of frustration as well) on its wooden cabinet. Usually to listen to the 12:50 noon news (called Delhi news), one had to start preparing at around 12:30 itself.

Despite all the above issues, it was fun to see and listen to such a Murphy radio. And I almost forgot to mention the Murphy logo which had a sweet baby’s face.

Does anyone still have a vintage radio at your home?

8. Dyanora TV sets

old-dyanora-tv

Dyanora TV - Image courtesy: WithinAndWithout.com

Now, these are not really very old entities but it was the first Indian television brand that I got to watch (at my neighbour’s place). I believe it was in 1980 or so? These Dyanora TVs (black and white) used to be thrice as big as its picture tube itself with two speakers on either side and sliding shutters that would close from both sides. It had pathetic design aesthetics but who cares when the transmission itself is available for only one or two hours per day – that too in black and white and with full of interruptions (Rukaavat ke liye khed hai!)

Though I never ever liked Dyanora as a brand, I think it was one of the household names during those days and I remember it as the first TV I ever watched.

9. Vijay Super Scooter

Well, in a comment within my post about the Bajaj Chetak Scooter, I had mentioned about the Vijay super scooter. I learned riding on a Vijay super which is a discontinued model for years now. It was in fact something that looked like a Lamby and would run on a half-petrol half-kerosene mix. Though, this combination meant starting trouble and occasional ‘fut-phut’ sounds, I always remember it as the first geared two-wheeler I have ridden in my life not to forget the Luna moped which I had tried prior to that.

10. Tinopal

Now, how many of you can guess what it was? Tinopal (later it became Ranipal) was one of the clothe whitening agents (like Ujala) that I have seen my mother using during my childhood. It always amazed me because a drop of it was good enough for a bucketful of white clothes to make it surprisingly sparkling and smelling good. Its fragrance was similar to that of the modern fabric conditioners but I believe it was far superior. Sometimes, I just don’t understand why such brands were discontinued.

Tinopal to Ranipal

Tinopal to Ranipal ad, Image from 8ate.blogspot.com


By the way, I managed to Google out this newspaper ad announcing the brand name change – Tinopal to Ranipal

Over to you

I am sure all of you have plenty to talk about those retro brands. I still have many in my list but some of them that I haven’t directly consumed or experienced.

Let me know if you have any pleasant memories to share about those products/brands that you have seen, used or experienced 20 or 30 years (or even before) back!

I turn 40 today!

1 Oct

Well, there is nothing to hide. As a matter of fact, I am a 40 year old today! Though my official records state that I was born in 1971, according to what I learned from my parents, I was born on October 1st, 1970 and hence I go by this date for non-official records. This birthday mismatch was a common thing with many people who were born in village places at that time because there was no concept of birth registration until you hit schools.

So, how do I feel about being 40? Obviously nobody wants to get older and I am no different either. I am in the middle of middle age now. Next logical phase is the old age and I do not want to think about it for the time being :)

A look into the past

I was born in a remote village place (‘Annamanada’ if you can pronounce it) in Thrissur district of Kerala at a time when electricity was a luxury. I remember getting our home electric connection when I was 7 or so. I must say, though, that I am among the luckiest people in that beautiful village (even now it is) because both my parents were employed in the government service.

ajith-prasad-edassery-at-40As a child, I went to school at the age of 6 or so and not at the age of 3 as it is the case with today’s kids. I was put into a Malayalam medium Government school which didn’t have proper walls, sanitation arrangements or even a good quality well to get drinking water though our beautiful river was very nearby. However I, as a child, was first groomed by some of those loving teachers and then my mother who herself was a teacher in another school nearby.

My father, a Marxist, played a crucial role in shaping my personality and certain in born skills. I strongly believe that it was my father the all-rounder who is responsible for the person that I am today though I do not possess even 25% of the various skills that he had as a youngster. Because of him, I was able to do the basic English reading and writing as a four year old. In fact, I learned the alphabets when I was 3, thanks to his encouragement. However, I feared my dad until I was 13 or so because he used to punish us hard for any mistakes. When I entered my teenage he was already in his sickbed due to Rheumatoid Arthritis. He could not walk properly till he died and he struggled for a long 15 years or so.

From the time my father fell ill, it was my mother’s hard work and commitment that brought us (me and my two sisters) up to be well educated individuals. After my father’s death, I played a small role in getting my younger sister married off but that’s nothing compared to the lifelong dedication of my parents towards bringing us up.

Education and employment

I have been outside my village for the past twenty years though I visit the place once or twice a year. First, I moved to Thiruvananthapuram to join the Engineering college there when I was 20 and then moved to Bangalore for a job at the age of 24 or so. To be frank, though I am married and settled in Bangalore for many years now, my mind is still with that little beautiful village where the laid back, peaceful and healthiest environment makes it a heaven on earth (Literally God’s own country).

I shall probably write an autobiography on the rest of the topics, in case I get famous before I die :D

Why am I among the luckiest earthlings?

A number of reasons in fact:

  • Since, we were a communist family, temple, gods, religion etc didn’t play any major role in my life. My parents taught us to mingle freely with kids from all religions and we even got involved in their lives so that until today I do not see a Hindu, Muslim or Christian differently (In fact, I got a cultural shock when I first landed in Thiruvananthapuram in search of my degree )
  • The village I was born in is one of the most beautiful places in my state where the freshest water and the best soil is available. Our river never dries up even in the worst of summer
  • I am extremely happy that I am a non-vegetarian who eats any kind of meat or seafood. I am able to survive anywhere in the world due to the same
  • My parents taught us to stay away from all kinds of corruptions in life. I consider it a great thing to be able to live as a man with integrity whether it is following traffic rules, paying exact taxes or staying away from telling lies.
  • I am glad to be married to an individual who thinks like me and fights against injustice all the time. She is equally – or much more than me – receptive to various cultures, religions and able to cope with all kinds of human beings. She works hard day long and plays a crucial role in grooming our elder one while taking care of the special one by relinquishing her sleep time and many luxuries in life
  • I am blessed to have two adorable sons – one of them a brainy smarty (8 year old Aditya) while the younger one is a bed ridden special boy (Atul who turned 4 yesterday, on 30th September). But both in their own ways make their parents the luckiest ones around.
  • I am happy being an Indian and feel extremely lucky to have witnessed the kind of growth our country is having in the past twenty years or so
  • Finally, at 40, I am happy to be reasonably successful in life with respect to my education, career, finances and most importantly fulfilling the duty towards the previous (though not completely :( ) as well as next generation

How am I, as a specimen, fairing at 40?

Health & body: I still have a 6/6 vision (or 20/20 in some parts of the world), I have absolutely no gray hairs and I am lean (67Kgs or 150lbs). I still have a 33” waistline and a reasonably flat tummy. Thanks to my dad for those wonderful genes passed on :)

The only health issue is probably the high blood pressure that I developed last year. And appearance-wise, I can see one clear age line on my forehead now and a couple of wrinkles under the eyes – Welcome to the 40s!

One of the health goals is to stop my occasional smoking habits and engage in one of those numerous sporting activities that I like or swim/walk on a regular basis.

Wealth: I am doing okay here. I have a loan free apartment, have reasonable retiral add-ons opted and have recently bought another apartment with a loan. I do have a home back in Kerala where I would like to go back permanently at some point of time.

Career: In my life, I got to work with some of the great companies and coolest software technologies in India as well as abroad. I am happy that I work with SAP which is a steady growth and stable company.

Family life: I already talked about it.

5 things I wish I had done differently in life

  • 1. I wish I had completed the musical classes and instruments that I started practicing as a child
  • 2. I wish I didn’t waste all my money prior to marriage on designer clothes, stock markets and on luxury lifestyle. I would strongly advise the new generation kids to think long term in terms of investment
  • 3. I wish I had married at the age of 27 or so. Getting married at 30 was a bit too late, I thought
  • 4. I wish I could control my anger with my kids and my wife. Sometimes, I unintentionally hurt people and unfortunately my current ‘serious’ and ‘tight-lipped’ face makes people think differently about the person that I am. I must also confess that I am an outspoken person and that lands me in trouble at times
  • 5. I wish I had a brother with whom I could have shared a lot of responsibilities in life and pressure when I had to cope with such situations – especially during the tragic death of my dad

What’s the plan ahead for the next 10-15 years, if I am alive that is?

If at all possible, I would like to see India rich and I would love to live in the developed India. I hope India gets into a developed nation status in another 12-15 years as the next five to ten years are very important for the country.

Grooming the next generation is one of the serious responsibilities of a middle-aged human being and I hope to do my part in the coming years.

Retiring at 45 is another dream and I hope that works out as planned. After that, hopefully, I can continue to do on certain things (may be writing) that I like. from home.

Traveling a lot around the world is another dream. With my second son’s situation, I know that it’s not easy but I would like to give it a try.

Death?

You never know whether it’s going to be a normal death or an abnormal one via road accidents, terror strikes, critical illness etc. But whenever I die, I would like to die peacefully and before causing botheration for others – however, there’s no question of dying before I carry out certain planned duties :)

Sorry for the long boring post… Many more happy returns of this day, though!

Yet another Onam

23 Aug

Malayalees (people from the state of Kerala in India) celebrate their biggest festival – Onam – today. Though most of these years I have been working on Onam days, I opted to take a day off today. The idea was to spend the Onam day with my family and also to pass on bit of our traditions to my elder son Aditya who is 8 now. For him having a day of pure vegetarian lunch (Onam Sadya) was something strange but today he was in a bit of celebration as well.

onam pookkalam ajith prasad edasseryThe preparations for the day started yesterday evening itself with us buying a lot of flowers to put the Thiruvona pookkalam. Today morning, I managed to put this small pookkalam (floral decoration – see picture) in front of our entry door and it didn’t quite turn out be all that good as I was missing some must-have colors of flowers. However, Aditya was excited about the final outcome. In the meantime my wife managed to prepare the traditional Onam lunch with four to five various vegetarian dishes and the paayasam (Watery dessert)

Things are changing

Though most of us still do celebrate Onam, as the years pass by, the interest is slowly coming down. The traditional aspects are giving way to modern fast life and related lifestyle entities. Onam was originally started probably when most people were poor and on the Onam day they used to eat well, celebrate and enjoy. Nowadays, when most days are like Onam or even better, the importance is no more there, I feel.

For a few years now, Keralites have been the biggest alcohol consumers in India. The state government gets most of its revenue from the state run Beverages Corporation which owns a number of outlets though out Kearla only through which one could buy alcoholic drinks. During festival days the alcohol consumption is at the highest and even children in their early teens do drink alcohol. It’s one of the biggest threats to the future of my beautiful state and the ever growing unemployment rate is adding more to the woes.

The unemployment rates have actually forced one or more members of many families to work abroad or in neighbouring states. This means that many of them have to travel back to Kerala on holidays to be really with their families to celebrate Onam – and Onam is the celebration were everyone is expected to get together in the tharavadu or joint family dwelling. Personally, I haven’t been able to be with my mother on many Onam days in the recent years and this is something that I feel really bad about as I grow older. My mother on the other hand is not willing to leave the greenery and good neighbourhood of my village place to be with me here in Bangalore where there’s no life for a villager in an apartment setup.

Commercialism is part of any festival and Onam is no exception either. In our childhood days we used to actually walk for miles and collect flowers for putting the ‘pookkalam’ but now I have to buy them – that too not exactly the kind of flowers that I would like to have. Every single vegetarian dish and crispy Kerala banana chips etc used to earlier made at home but now many of them are available in the stores to buy. Even the government run Kerala Tourism Development Corporation have arranged various tour programs for attracting Malayalees and making them realize what Onam stands for. The growing flat (apartment) culture in Kerala is basically churning out a generation that do not understand their traditions and values (Of course I do stay in an apartment in Bangalore and my son definitely miss a few things that I enjoyed as a child)

Overall, as we celebrate this Onam, I have mixed feelings. Though I am trying my best to make our children understand and learn our traditions, I am not 100% satisfied on that front. The responsibility to the next generation in terms of passing the culture, language etc is not completely met. At the same time, by not being with my mother today, I am not doing the duties as a son as well. I only hope that I get to enjoy the next years Onam with everyone in the family.

Happy Onam to you all!