Of two books, one old and one new!
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

Of two books, one old and one new!

March 27, 2022

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

Three days ago, a picture in Star of Mysore showing a son and his mother standing near a road signboard, caught my attention. When I read on, I discovered that it was a picture of the author Devaki Jain and her son, TV news reader and anchor, Sreenivasan Jain, who on a visit to the city, were photographed standing next to the signboard that marks a Circle in Chamundipuram named after M.A. Sreenivasan, their father and grandfather, respectively.

Devaki Jain, a Padma Bhushan awardee, is a well-known Indian economist and champion of women’s rights who has written many books. The two that I have read ‘The Brass Notebook’ and ‘The Journey of a Southern Feminist’ are both very good, with the former, according to me, scoring over the latter in readability. Devaki’s son, Sreenivasan Jain, is a journalist working for the NDTV since 1995 and I remember him from the days when I used to watch TV news. But that was a very very long time ago when news meant showing what was happening. Now, with facts no longer being sacred, when news means showing only what the sponsors of each channel think and believe in, however far from the truth it is, it no longer appeals to me and so I waste no time on watching it.

Devaki’s father, Mandyam A. Sreenivasan was one of the very senior bureaucrats of our State who occupied many important posts during his long and checkered career. He later became a Minister in the Princely State of Mysore and even went on to become the Dewan of the State of Gwalior. My first knowledge about this man came when in the year 1992 I bought an interesting looking book at a book stall in Bangalore. The book titled ‘Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me’ was a kind of narrative autobiography written by Sreenivasan and it turned out to be so interesting and absorbing that after my return to Mysore, I completed it in one sitting and immediately decided to go back to Bangalore and meet the writer in person for a tete-e-tete.

So, in exactly three days, I was in the vicinity of his house, looking for someone whom I could ask for directions on how to reach it. Although the writer had mentioned in his book how he came to acquire the plot of land on which he built that house and how he had named it ‘Taranga’ which means waves, because it was located on the banks of the Sankey Lake, my difficulty lay in the fact that the house had almost no visible approach road. It was only with much difficulty that I gathered from some workers digging a trench along the roadside, that it could be reached only by going through the forest department nursery located nearby.

When I negotiated what seemed like a maze of overgrown greenery and rang the doorbell, surprisingly, the genial old man himself opened it, thankfully with a smile, albeit with a very perplexed look on his wrinkled face! But even before I could introduce myself or tell him the reason for my unannounced visit, he seemed visibly pleased to see me, as if he had been eagerly expecting me. I quickly surmised that this was because I was holding his book, face up, with both my hands, as if I had come to his doorstep to gift it to him!

What followed was a hour-long chat over tea served by his cook, with the two of us seated comfortably on the cushioned cane chairs in his verandah. When I discovered very quickly that he was as eager to tell me all about his heydays as I was to listen to him, I felt much relieved and my sense of guilt at having intruded on his privacy quickly vanished. And, after getting my copy of his book autographed by him, when I took leave, he asked me to drop in and pay him a visit whenever I was in Bangalore, which was when my guilt turned to joy!

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I was able to visit him half a dozen times after our first meeting before he passed away on 15th, January 1998. At every one of these meetings, thanks to his amazingly astute memory, despite his advancing years, he was able to recount details of incidents from his life with absolute clarity and he would take much pleasure in narrating them. His book, which is now out of print and unavailable anywhere, is full of interesting incidents both from his personal and public life and is a great repository of the information about what life was like under the able administration of our Maharajas and the intrigue, including outstanding honesty and shameful treachery that were inseparably intertwined with it.

A sceptic becomes a believer!

Very recently, I visited a book exhibition that had come to our city. It was a most unusual one, where books were sold not by numbers or even weight as they sometimes are, but by volume! At the very entrance, visitors were urged to pick up card board boxes that came in three sizes and fill them till the brim with books of their choice and pay the price stipulated on the box accordingly.

With my virtual greed for books, I had picked up the biggest of the three boxes and was standing at the billing counter, wondering how I would carry it to my car which was parked a long way off, when a smart young girl approached me and after introducing herself as Rachitha, offered me a book which she was selling from a separate counter. She told me that the book titled ‘Inner Trek’ had been penned by her father, Mohan Ranga Rao and it was being sold at a discount for the duration of the exhibition.

I took the book from her and after a cursory glance at it, decided to buy it because I knew her dad to be a sibling of the city’s well-known Ranga Rao Family which most Mysureans know as a large business conglomerate flourishing over almost a century. When I offered to pay for it, Rachitha smiled and said she was giving the book to me as a gift. Although I am unable to say whether she was impelled to do so because she saw me as a book-lover, going by the heavy load of books I was carrying or because she had an inkling of who I was from my weekly column in SOM but I certainly felt very pleased with her generosity and thanked her. I also went on to tell her that I knew most of her uncles very well and Dr. R. Sridhar, the one just older to her dad, was a close friend of mine over many decades.

Mamatha and Mohan during their trek.

After I returned home, since it was the weekend, I got down to reading her book immediately and put it down but only after I finished reading it completely! It was a most absorbing account of a man who was never spiritual all his life, who set out on a pilgrimage to Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash in Tibet, one of the world’s most sacred spots for any devout Hindu. In a very down to earth and candid admission, Mohan very honestly tells about how he never was a believer in any kind of spirituality, let alone being a follower of any religious rituals, believing all through his life that a good life was all about going about it with honesty and uprightness in all that you did. That was the part that touched me most and held me glued to his book. He admits that he was drawn into the ritual of participating in a homa here in Mysuru, only on the urging of his wife, Mamatha who was more religious than him and who felt that this one act would make him tide over the adversities that had then been afflicting their life. And, they had a very generous helping of them which started with his eldest daughter being born blind and then succumbing to cancer at the tender age of eight years.

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This was followed by losses in business and threats from the underworld that forced him to part with his landed properties for throwaway prices. His wife followed up their participation in the homa with a vow to undertake a trek to Mount Kailash that she was told would clear all the hurdles in their path.

Any man, plagued by seemingly unsurmountable problems, like a drowning man, naturally clutches at every available straw and so even the sceptic in him agreed to accompany his better half in her quest for succour and salvation. What followed was a most arduous but most life changing trek of their lives, over treacherous, snowy mountains that instead of leaving them tired and weary and sad because of the many fellow pilgrims who perished, left them with their souls refreshed, renewed and relieved!

To my knowledge, all pilgrimages, irrespective of the faiths and religions we follow, do that and that’s just what they are meant to do. And, when you come to think of it, most soul satisfying pilgrimages are not easy to undertake, requiring much preparation and steeling of the resolve before you embark on them. Their hardship, their privation, the strain they impose on our bodies and even the great peril they put us in make us soar above our sense of pain. The ‘Inner Trek’ is a book about all this and more…it is a story of a mountain that moved a man and a sceptic who became a believer!

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7 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Of two books, one old and one new!”

  1. Mann Ki Baat! says:

    Javeed Nayeem has done it again, using his creative imagination, his association with MA Srinivasan and others, as soon as his daughter ‘s story appeared in the SOM.
    Nayeem should count on his 1000+ acquaintances with whoever made the headlines in the SOM.
    Just to observe, 1992, was not 1962, By 1979s, Bangalore expanded willy-nilly, the Sankey Lake became filth and the vegetation nearby decimated.
    This Nayeeem thought the readers would be unaware!
    In 1992, Bangalore had telephones, and the general post office had telephone directory, and pay phones. Nayeem could have phone Mr Srininvasan and asked for directions to hisd house etc..
    Was Nayeem aware that there was something called telephones.
    There is no need to regurgitate the biography of Mr Srinivasan. It is public knowledge. Surprisingly, he was not talent-spotted by Nalwadi, even when he was the president of the Municipal council in Mysore!
    About another encounter. Nayeem seems to take pride on the popularity of his inane writing in his column, which I should not is no where near to the quality of the column that the Late Legendary journalist Pothan Joseph used to pen: ” Ove ra Cup of Tea”, short, full of wit and wisdom, never silly biographical. Mr Ganapathy , the SOM editor then wanted that quality of writing from Nayeem suggesting a modified title for his column.
    I wonder what Mr Ganapathy thinks of Nayeem’s column now. Nayeem, the cardiologist, the astrologer, the palm reader, the wizard of hand guns and the book worm!!

  2. Mann Ki Baat! says:

    Correction: GPO-General Post Office then.

  3. boregowda says:

    Enjoyed reading your article and impressed with your efforts to meet up with Mr. Srinivasan.

  4. Questo says:

    Typical Nayeem. He always creates a mountain out of a mole hill!
    He was not in an expedition in Africa, 3 centuries ago, trying to find the source of the mighty Zambezi river!
    That was 1992, Even Africa was reasonably well developed then! There were no remote hidden area in Bangalore even in 1960.
    That lake is well known in Bangalore of 1992, and an auto driver would have taken him there. From there, just a few minutes to locate Srinivasan’s house. Srinivasan as not living in a tree house in the deep forest of Africa of 1800. That area was well developed, and no need to negotiate dense tree patch to locate his house. He could have used even a bicycle to reach that place, from the city centre.
    Srinivasan surely had a telephone. As the poster above said, Bangalore telephone directories were available in public offices like the Townhall to refer to.
    !992 Bangalore was spread far and wide, beyond what used to be Whitefield town, and industrial complexes thrived every where miles from th e city.
    Nayeem, need not have gone to see Srinivasan to listen to about Maharajas, as he was not close to Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, the Maharaja who mattered in his time. Srinivasan at best knew the Yuvaraja, Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wadiyar, who was seldom in Mysore,. He did not matter really then.
    There were at least 3/4 Palace officials I was aware of in 1992, one of them was my relative, who lived in Mysore to their ripe old age of 90s, who worked closely with Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, and his Dewans . If it interests any one, Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar spent most of the year in Bangalore Palace, except during the days leading to Dasara ( died there as his Dewans Sir MV and Mirza Ismail too, who were permanent residents in Bangalore-indeed all his Dewans were Bangaloreans.

  5. Questo says:

    Typical Nayeem. He always creates a mountain out of a mole hill!
    He was not in an expedition in Africa, 3 centuries ago, trying to find the source of the mighty Zambezi river!
    That was 1992, Even Africa was reasonably well developed then! There were no remote hidden area in Bangalore even in 1960.
    That lake is well known in Bangalore of 1992, and an auto driver would have taken him there. From there, just a few minutes to locate Srinivasan’s house. Srinivasan as not living in a tree house in the deep forest of Africa of 1800. That area was well developed, and no need to negotiate dense tree patch to locate his house. He could have used even a bicycle to reach that place, from the city centre.
    Srinivasan surely had a telephone. As the poster above said, Bangalore telephone directories were available in public offices like the Townhall to refer to.
    !992 Bangalore was spread far and wide, beyond what used to be Whitefield town, and industrial complexes thrived every where miles from th e city.
    Nayeem, need not have gone to see Srinivasan to listen to about Maharajas, as he was not close to Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, the Maharaja who mattered in his time. Srinivasan at best knew the Yuvaraja, Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wadiyar, who was seldom in Mysore,. He did not matter really then.
    There were at least 3/4 Palace officials I was aware of in 1992, one of them was my relative, who lived in Mysore to their ripe old age of 90s, who worked closely with Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, and his Dewans . If it interests any one, Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar spent most of the year in Bangalore Palace, except during the days leading to Dasara ( died there as his Dewans Sir MV and Mirza Ismail too, who were permanent residents in Bangalore-indeed all his Dewans were Bangaloreans.

  6. Captain Jack Sparrow says:

    Javeed Nayeem should be happy that he was able to convince @boregowda about his difficult expedition in search of the elusive Srinivasan, who like the proverbial sorcerer was living in a difficult to reach mansion surrounded by the hostile dense bushes!!
    Never say to Nayeem that the 1992 Bangalore where any greenery of the type described was unknown, as the city was expanding fast clearing all things green and dense, to accommodate the massive influx of people and businesses, large and small.
    You can depend on Javeed Nayeem as you depend on the night following the day, writing a narrative with 3 core ingredients-his association with the person appearing in the news, a story that links him and the person concerned, and about how his unique talents made the previous 2 possible! He has not failed in this new narrative too. The only question that lesser mortals like us would ask: why this genius was not invitedto contribute in a national newspaper?
    Nayeem did disappoint me, may be a lot of his readers too-that is what he believes that he has a large number of readers , when he wrote an article on Lata Mangeshkar, daftly commenting on her treatment, citing the ancient Hippocratic oath he too-really,?; because, this Greek oath runs into several paragraphs, and the oath taken is the modern very short version highlighting obligations. He stopped short of saying that he knew Lata Mangeshkar well , and that he invited her once to his house in NR Mohalla for a tea and a plate of samosas!
    Finally, Nayeem would not comment on the Hijab controversy , his religion insists on females -even to a female kid going to a primary school,. That was news too, after the HC judgement and the curfew in Mysore.. Instead, he wades into Mount Kailash and Homa, and about the Hindu pilgrimage. He himself did his to Mecca, thanks to the generous help of the State WAKF board, funded by the tax payers money . No such joy for Hindus visiting Mount Kailash, as they are in the category of second class citizens in India!!
    Nayeem, keep up churning out your stories, never forgetting the attention-seeking 3ingredients mentioned above which you deploy every time.. The SOM , one day may bring to the attention of the Sahithya Academy/Padma awards body, , your rich input as a multi-faceted person-a doctor, a historian, a crusader of heritage preservation specialising in bridges, an astrologer, a palm reader, and perhaps emphasising less your expertise in hand guns -un Hippocratic character as Hippocrates emphasised, preservayion of life.

  7. Kawakawaffoxgowda says:

    Am I missing some thing? There was one very old book by Srinivasan and another one picked up in a second hand book clearance, was old too! So, one very old book and the other old book!
    “after getting my copy of his book autographed by him”.- Any chance of displaying the autographed page?
    Vikram, editorial corrections please.

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