Rhadha—Keeping the Dance Tradition Alive

This article was written a few years ago as a cover story for Eves Touch!! Her disciples are celebrating her 75th birthday.

Celebrations of Rhadha

A dancer who is finally getting due recognition

The clear and melodious voice of Rhadha flows through the auditorium enunciating the

“Ta Ka Di Mi Ta” with the sharp beat of the nattuvangam. A lady in the next seat of the

darkened hall whispers, “The girl who is having an arangetram today is a disciple of

Rhadha. I never miss any performance of Rhadha’s disciples. Alas, she does not dance

much any more. She and her sister Kamala used to dance to full houses so many years

ago”. The three sisters- Kamala, Rhadha and Vasanthi learnt dancing from the great

Natyacharya Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. Today Rhada has created a strong identity of her

own and has established herself as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. Rhadha takes

great pride in being the only disciple of the great Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai who still

performs and teaches exactly as he taught her how to dance. Rhadha’s career spans more

than four decades. She has also learnt Kuchupudi from another eminent Guru, Shri

Vempatti Chinna Satyam.

Kamala Lakshman, as she was popularly known won a lot of fame because of her

dancing talent and the glamorous exposure that she got through films. Rhada

acknowledges with pride the role of her elder sister in her career. “My sister Kamala was

all the while dancing at home. Soon I started dancing as well. Dancing with my sisters

was real fun and it was more a family activity. So I never worked towards having an

identity of my own at that time”. The sisters have performed in front of many great

people like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Dwight Eisenhower, Queen

Elizabeth II and Chou-en- lei.

Rhadha.jpg

“I was always been under the shadow of my sister Kamala. She went away to the US in

79-80. I then opened my school ‘Pushpanjali’ and began to establish myself as a teacher.

The public, until then, was unaware that I was still around. Then I did a program for the

Sabha called Shankarabharanam, run by the art lover Shri Venkatakrishnan. and soon

parents began to bring their daughters to me for training. Then my solo performance for

Shri Yagnaraman of Krishna Gana Sabha in the December season brought me into the

limelight” says Rhadha. She also ascribes some of this success to her changing her

spelling according to numerology.

Rhadha says, “Teaching is totally different from dancing and performing. Patience is the

most important quality that you need as a teacher. I have pupils from the age of 6 to 20

and I give individual attention to each of them in one hour classes. The best stage to start

learning is at the age of 6 to 7, but you have to be careful as they get bored if you

continuously correct them. Good features are definitely an advantage for a dancer.

Finally, it all depends on the talent, stamina and the interest of the student. I think it is

important that the traditional dance form should be preserved. Any addition or change in

the name of modernisation will only harm the dance form”.

The Vazhuvoor style has been presented by many great dancers like Padma

Subrahmanyam, Chitra Visweswaran, Kamala and Rhadha. “The synchronization of the

abhinaya, the neck and the eye movement, the fluidity of the dance and the softness of the

movements characterize this school of dance. Even the sternest adavus have to look

graceful without the rigidity”. Rhada enjoys an excellent relationship with all these great

dancer/gurus as well.

Very often there are complaints that dancers who have finished arangetrams have to start

from scratch when they go to a new teacher. “I have taken students after they have had

stage debuts. They had to start from the beginning because each school of dance has its

stamp of individuality. Items can be learnt but a purity of style is important. I am

particular about adhering to the traditional style and I insist on perfection. Dancing with a

smiling face brings grace to the performance. Without that pleasant look, it would look

like a workout.’

Pushpanjali, Rhada’s school for Bharathanatyam was started by her in 1982. It has

produced scores of dancers, several of whom have won laurels for the institution and the

Guru. It has also won a reputation of being one of the friendliest dance classes in Madras.

“The relationship between a teacher and a student has to be based on friendliness”, says

Rhadha. “There can be bhakthi for the Guru, but there should be no fear. Children have

individual talents that should not be curbed. Every student is different and needs

personalized attention”. There was a time when the student came to the teacher to learn.

Now Rhadha goes to the US to live with her student’s family for a couple of months and

imparts rigorous training before the arangetram. “In the West, students are more

systematic and work very hard. They make an extra effort and pay a lot of attention to the

small details”.

Radha’s dance school, Pushpanjali celebrated its silver jubilee in August this year. “All

my students, from different parts of the world, flew down to be part of the two day silver

jubilee celebrations’, she says with joy and pride. A book, ‘Nadanam Aadinaar: 25 years”

was released to celebrate the silver jubilee and the first copy was received by Leela

Venkataraman.

She cherishes the time when she received the Sangeeta Nataka Academy award from Dr

Abdul Kalam and the Kalaimamani award from the State government in 2005. The

Nungambakkam Cultural Academy has awarded her with the title ‘Nritya Kala

Shironmani’ for her outstanding contribution over the last many decades for the cause of

dance. The Cleveland Bhairavi Society has given her the award ‘ Nritya Ratnakara’ for

outstanding services to Dance. The Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan, Coimbatore honoured with

the title, [‘Natya Ratna’]. She is to be felicitated again this December with the Acharya

Choodamani award from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha followed by a solo performance.

Rhadha has produced several dance dramas and thematic presentations with the help of

Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, who provides the research, script and music. These programs

have won accolades in India and abroad. ‘Nauka Charitram’ was produced by the Central

Production Centre of Doordarshan and was telecast over the National Network.

She also choreographed the dance drama ‘Sri Lakshmi Prabhavam’ composed by ‘Chitra Veena’ Shri Ravikiran. Both were premiered at the

Aradhana Festival in Cleveland, USA and had successful tours of US and Canada.

She has presented the compositions by Vaggeyakaras like Swathi Thirunal, Ambujam

Krishna and Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar and the trinity of Carnatic music.

Rhadha choreographed the dance drama ‘Jaya Jaya Devi’, composed by the violin

Maestro, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman that premiered in the USA. She presented a part of this

dance-drama recently when eminent dance gurus came together at the end of October to

perform ‘Lalgudi Mārgam’ at The Music Academy. This program featured only the

compositions of Lalgudi Jayaraman from Pushpanjali to Thillana. The participants were

Narasimhacharis, Sudha Rani Raghupathi’s ‘Bharathalaya’, Chitra Visweswaran’s

‘Chidambaram’, Rhadha’s ‘Pushpanjali’, Dhananjayans and Kalakshetra.

Rhadha and Sujatha have presented several lecture demonstrations and have regularly

presented a different topic every year on 25th December at Nungambakkam Cultural

Academy from 1987. The lecture demonstrations on Lalgudi Jayaraman’s compositions

and on the Vazhuvoor tradition of Bharatha Natyam have been recorded by Sruti

Foundation for its archives; ‘Navarasa in Thyagaraja’ and ‘Environment in

Bharatanatyam’ have been recorded by the UGC for national telecast.

Her school Pushpanjali, meaning "offering of flowers", has given to the world of dance

beautiful blooms like the sisters Sumitra-Sunanda, Sangita Shyamsundar, Samyuktha

Girish, Vidya Vishnu, Lavanya Venkat, Lavanya Prabu, Sujatha Ramanadhan, Sujatha

Sundararajan, Radha Venkatesan, Gayatri Srikant, Aparna Kasbekar, Shalini, Priya

Umesh, Yogita Venkataraman, Shobana Ram (USA), Satya Pradeep (USA), Ramya

(USA), Roopa Chari (Zambia), Krithika, Deepika Rajam, Sukanya, Padmaja, Sucharita

and Sowmya Narayanan . Several of these trained dancers have started dance schools in

India and abroad.

“I practice everyday. Dance is a stress reliever, and brings happiness. The body and mind,

both are relaxed when this art form is practised. My guru’s way of saying the jathis was

unique; it was very melodious. When I dance, I specially teach this method to one of the

talented youngsters who are doing nattuvangam for dancers.” Rhada still retains her

youthfulness in spite of being a grandmother. Her eyes and face express myriad emotions

with the Vazhuvoor stamp of speed and sparkle.

Radha makes it a point to visit her son, Kannan Ramanathan and his wife Kalpana and

her grandchildren Nikhil 11 and Arjun 9 in California. This is her special time to bond

with them and to unwind and relax. In her late sixties her warmth and hospitality are

touching. She bubbles with enthusiasm and enjoys every moment, every opportunity and

every experience that life has to offer. Her girlish speaking voice changes its timbre and

reveals strength and power when she sits behind her nattuvangam plank and stick. The

guru concludes with contentment, “I am happy that I am a teacher and I would love to

remain as one in the world of dance. I find immense pleasure in polishing up the skills of

an average dancer who comes to me to learn dance. I can mould her and with

concentrated personal attention, bring up her skills and standards”. With all the

recognition, awards and opportunities, Rhadha is finally getting her due as a

dancer/teacher par excellence.

Posted in Current Events, Heritage, Society, Uncategorized, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Armchair Logues: Mani the vegetable seller

Mani was a vegetable seller who came rolling his cart full of fresh vegetables. He had this reputation for bringing good quality veggies at a slightly premium price.  He was able to sell all his produce by noon and happily roll home. By 6 PM he was ready to hit Tasmac with the allowance his wife allotted him to enjoy his milli’s.
The colony ladies all supported his rolling business. In his area of enterprise he was accepted as the expert for he knew his vazhakkai and amavasai and Agathu keerai and dwadashi. In season he brought in the Vadu maangai and cut the avakkai mango’s to just the right sized segments for his clientele. The green pepper stalks and maangay inji (ginger with the strong mango flavour) with flat juicy lemons and the mahaalikizhangu (sarasapilla) turned up bang on seasonal demands. If it was Pongal the fresh ginger and turmeric shoots decorated his cart and the green piles disappeared before you could say Pongalo pongal. Mud Ganesha’s sporting beady eyes and colourful umbrellas rolled up with erukkam poo garlands and Arugam grass bunches for Pillayaar Chathurthi.
In this hunky dory situation, the one complaint the ladies had was that he avoided the king of vegetables. When asked why he didn’t  bring it,  he would side track the issue by saying,  “Just look at this bitter gourd…..is it not shining thala thala….good for your husband’s diabetes”! Or he would say, “Today I have a different selection of cucumbers. this is a new variety…just look at its greenness…great thirst quencher in this hot weather!”
I had been a bystander in these interactions. I had retired from a bank and then for a decade worked in a private company. Suddenly one morning I woke up and decided, enough is enough. I am going to enjoy my life and quit the 9 to 5 band wagon. My wife supported me and gradually initiated me into the joys of home making and cooking. This was not without a reason. She was going to the US to look after my daughter through her pregnancy and child birth. I was not in a position to go for an extended stay because my elderly mother was with us.
What intrigued me was the popularity of Mani. There was a vegetable and fruits Angadi nearby and a couple of supermarket chains. Yet the ladies bought their stuff from him. In my marketing forays, I picked up the produce but the strident call of Mani at 8 AM was like the soulful music of the Pied Piper and one by one, the ladies stepped out of the houses and apartments to buy his produce. For the first few days, I stood in my balcony and watched the trading process that was going on between Mani and the colony inmates. Then I decided to step down one morning and pick up a nice green cabbage.
“Come Saar, come, come! What would you like today. Amma has gone off to the US…has Baby delivered the child?”, he asked with genuine interest.
“Cabbage please” I said and passed him my bag. “Just a minute Saar. Second floor madam has to go to office….I will attend to her requirements first”, he said and there was non-stop banter from him. Finally he picked up the cabbage and weighed it out for me. That was my first purchase from him and soon I  was shopping from him regularly.  We exchanged news, argued politics, discussed prices and mourned over the status of the state. In fact there were two or three other Mama’s and the morning news analysis and commiseration about the nation’s problems began to be centered around Mani’s vegetable cart. 8.30 AM began to be Mani ki Baath time in our colony.
Browsing in my Fb group one day, I saw a post for Vaangi baath with attractive pictures. My culinary skills were challenged and I decided to try my hand at it. Mani’s cart rolled in and I eagerly ran down to pick up some brinjals. The ladies were still surrounding the cart and in my anxiety, I peered over corner house Kamala’s shoulders and said, “Mani…I want some brinjals…keep some aside for me!”
There was pin drop silence as all the ladies held their collective breath. Then Sharada Mami’s reedy voice piped up, “Seenu….no brinjals”.
“No eggplants as my daughter-in-law Mary calls it,” said Vaidehi Mami with a shrug.
“They call it aubergines over there” said Paddu Mama authoritatively as he joined the group with his basket and wallet in hand.
“Nahin ji….no baingan” said Jaspreet.
“Oh! No brinjals in his basket today, is it?” I asked.
“Mani doesn’t sell brinjals”,  said Karuna as she closed her cross body bag, slung it over her shoulders, put on her helmet and started her Scooty saying a “Byeeeeee” before buzzing off to her IT grind.
It took me a few minutes to process this information. Meanwhile the ladies clientele finished their transactions and moved on to their daily routines. I stood at the cart and asked Mani, “What are these ladies saying Mani? You did not bring brinjals from the market today?”
“Saar…look at this podalangai saar….have you seen such a looooong one, ever? It is from my brother-in-laws garden…home grown…with a stone tied to its end to make it grow long. Periamma….your mother will like it if you make it into a nice dhal dish with coconut and black pepper” he said giving me the traditional recipe for snake gourd for free.
“Brinjals Mani,,,,,brinjals….lets talk about the king of vegetables, brinjals!”
“Let it be Saar….no kings or queens anymore in this Republic of India!” he said.
I stood arms akimbo waiting for more. “Why no brinjals? There must be a reason….a valid reason…why Mani….why no brinjals?”
“Simple Saar….every other vegetable, I can tell my buyers….this is good…this is fresh….but that ….that …brinjal….it is a big headache Saar!”
I didn’t prompt him. he bent down and pulled out a bottle of water from the undercarriage of his cart and took a swig.
“Saar! Everytime I sold brinjals, the ladies would pounce on me the next day and complain…it was rotten, it was black, it had seeds, it had…..” he gulped another mouth of water….”It had…..worms” he whispered. “What can I do Saar….can I tell each brinjal….Open Sesame and walk into it and inspect its inner quality…..each brinjal is different….it will look shiny, purple, plump and fresh…..But inside when you cut and see…..Oh my God!….that is like taking a trip into the paathalam….the underworld….the unknown”.
Mani concluded, “No Saar…never….no brinjals for me…sorry….you have to go to the Angadi….no other go!” he offered a solution, gathered up his bits and pieces, rolled out his cart and began to yell, “Fresh vegetables….beans, cabbage, potato, tomato, raw banana, pumpkin. Today’s special  farm fresh long long snake gourds and drumsticks” as he went down the street, turned the corner and disappeared from sight!
The vaangi baath was not cooked that day!
 Vangi-Bath-
Vangi baath is a dish that originated in the Maharashtrian cuisine. Brought to Tanjavur by the Marathas, it spread to Karnataka as well.

Ingredients

150 grms                  brinjals (baingan / eggplant)
3 cups                       long grained rice (basmati)
1 big sized                onion   thin slices
1 teaspoon                Mustard seeds
2 teaspoon                cumin seeds (jeera)
1 teaspoon                urad dhal
2 tsp                          chana dal (split Bengal gram)
1 tablespoon           shredded curry leaves (kadi patta)
1/2 teaspoon            Hing powder
3 to 4 tsp                  vangi bhath powder
1 teaspoon               tamarind paste
2 tablespoons          Peanut powder
2 tbsp                        sesame/til oil
2 tsp                          ghee
salt to taste
coriander leaves for garnishing

 

Method

Powder
Heat a saucepan and dry roast 3 tablespoons of grated coconut till golden in colour. Keep it aside.
Roast 3 red chillies till brown. Keep it aside.
Roast 1 tablespoon of chana dal, urad dal, dhaniya seeds.
Add 1 teaspoon each of sesame seeds, cumin and methi seeds, 4 pieces of cloves and 1 stick of cinnamon.
Cool and blend into a powder all the ingredients together.

The Brinjal vangi bhath

  1. Wash brinjals, cut into long thin pieces and immerse in salt water to prevent the vegetable becoming black.
  2. Cook rice till grainy in a rice cooker or pressure cooker.
  3. Heat oil in the same saucepan. Add the mustard seeds and when it pops, add cumin seeds and stir. Add chana and urad dal and roast till golden in colour.
  4. Add curry leaves and hing, onions and salt and sauté for 2 minutes.
  5. Add sliced brinjal ,turmeric and sauté for 3 minutes.
  6. Add curry leaves, vangibhath masala powder and stir for another minute. Cover with lid and simmer cook for 2 minutes.
  7. Add tamarind paste, roasted peanut powder and mix in all the ingredients. Cook for another 2 minutes.
  8. Mix this dry stir fry into the boiled rice and add salt.
  9. Mix in a teaspoon of ghee and leave it covered and cook for 5 minutes.
  10. Serve hot after garnishing with chopped coriander leaves.
Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Country of conflicts – The latest spat Prof N Natarajan

India is fast becoming a country of conflicts. Conflicts among political parties are par for the course and are being witnessed daily in Parliament, paralyzing its proceedings. Likewise the Executive has its differences with the Judiciary and there are running conflicts between them. Judiciary recently had an extraordinary internal conflict between the CJI and a Senior Judge of the Supreme Court collegium  responsible for recommending names of judges for appointment.

Now the infection has spread to the Corporate world where intra-company board level wars have broken out in two of the largest, bluest of blue chip companies, the Tatas and Infosys. The Tata Mahabarath war has been well publicized and the conflict is reaching the courts for a resolution. The Tata business group was seen as a highly professional and ethical Corporate till recently. Suddenly its reputation has snow dived and the public is disillusioned.

However the current open spat between the founder group of shareholders and the present board of Directors of Infosys has come as a rude shock to the general public. Narayana Murthi, the founder and ex-Chairman of the Board, has alleged some serious mal-governance against the current Board of the Bangalore behemoth. He has questioned the Board of Management on the unconscionable quantum of severance packages sanctioned by the Board for two of their very senior executives, nomination of the wife of a Central Finance Minister as an Independent Director, and astronomical compensation approved by the Board at the highest level. As an Independent Director on the Board of a listed company, I can appreciate the seriousness of his criticism.

It is surprising Narayana Murthy’s criticism has not been met squarely. Instead an Independent Director of the company, Ms Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (a stalwart corporate leader  in her  own right), has spoken out of turn and issued a public statement, misinterpreting Murthy’s criticism by unfairly accusing him of being against current CEO and MD, Vishal Sikka. She has praised Sikka’s technical competence and innovative skills as if Murthi had questioned these qualities in Sikka. She has made a flippant remark “What worked for the last 20 years will not work for the next 20 years…there will always be disgruntled voices”. In the context of Narayanamurthy’s personal standing as a practitioner of corporate governance these insulting remarks are unpardonable, even more so given Ms. Shaw’s own stature. Most importantly as an Independent Director she should not have acted as a mouthpiece of the Management. Ms. Shaw says, “If shareholders voted in favour of the proposals, I do not think there is a Governance issue. Governance means following due processes and the Infosys board has followed it. Whatever processes needed to be passed – be it Punita Sinha’s appointment, Sikka’s salary or even Jeffrey Lehman’s extension- all have been passed through shareholder vote”. This is at best an uninformed statement and at worst, an alibi for a patently indefensible position.

Coming as it does from an Independent director of a highly reputed corporate, these statements raise a serious doubt on the functioning of the Board. I believe that she has not spoken impromptu. As a prudent person she would have certainly consulted some bright minds before rushing to make this controversial public statement. Quite possibly the entire Board thought of her as the best face to present an untenable excuse accompanied by character assassination of Murthy. By allowing herself to be used in this manner, she has unwittingly failed to discharge her obligations as an Independent Director.

Murthy’s observations should have alerted her. She should have taken his reservations to the Board and requested the Board to give a convincing response by inviting Murthy and other large minority share holders to a meeting. This episode demonstrates the sorry state of the general level of corporate governance in India even in the topmost corporates.

SEBI should strengthen its listing agreement to empower groups of minority shareholders with a sizeable holding to raise questions a corresponding obligation of the management to provide satisfactory answers and resolve issues in a transparent manner.

Posted in Current Events, Prof Natarajan's Blogs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

An Experiment in Living

It was not a romance of a conventional relationship between a man and a woman. It was not an arranged marriage either. It was not love at first sight or blind date that established an understanding. It just happened.

Sara was an only child. She was bright and an intellectual who loved her job teaching in a college. Her interest was literature and she was good at inspiring her students to fall in love with the written word, writers and characters who lived in the imagination. The years flew by and her status as a single woman was soon being spoken off in her family circles as being stranded on a shelf…very Victoriana indeed. In fact, many started using the term spinster along with her name Sara Menon. Her dedication to her parents and their welfare was total.

“If I were a son, people would say with pride that I was there for my aging parents. But because I am a daughter, everyone thinks that my parents have not fulfilled their duty and got me married. They say that Daddy is clinging to me for selfish reasons”.

“So why have you not got married,” asked Rajeev. “Are they dependant on your salary?”

Sara chuckled, “…..far from it. They are supporting me. My Mum inherited money, my Dad earned a great deal and continues to receive a handsome pension after retirement as a top official from the Central Government. Actually, I simply haven’t found anybody who is in sync with me….that is all!”

Rajeev looked deep into his cup of latte as if it contained the secrets to the universe. Sara and he were sitting in a restaurant, sharing coffee and croissants. They had met at a workshop arranged by the university to introduce the staff to a new software that helped them track their lectures, students’ progress and their grades. Rajeev was the techie who had come in with his team of instructors to break in the lecturers and professors into the new system. Rajeev had been impressed with the quick grasp of Sara and her positive and hands on approach to new technology.

They began to meet regularly on Saturday afternoons, to share coffee and a chat before going off to do their own stuff. After a couple of meetings Sara asked Rajeev, “ So…do you have kids, are you married…oops..wrong order of sentences…need to edit that…are you married, do you have kids”, she asked with a grin.

Rajeev beamed back and said, “No kids, no wife”. He took a deep breath and murmured, “But….my life is a cliché. I have two sisters to be married off. My mother is no more…she died in an accident”.

“I am sorry to hear this…what about your Dad?” Sara enquired.

“He has been in a wheelchair since the accident. He depends on me for all his morning chores. I take him into the bathroom and give him his shave, bath etc.. He has so much pain in his body that he will not allow anybody else to handle him physically. That is why I have my own business and work from home. I rarely go out as my kid sisters are still studying. We have an elderly lady staying with us who cooks and acts as a housekeeper. Another girl comes in for the cleaning and washing up jobs”.

“And…” Sara started.

Rajeev broke in, “I have not met a modern woman who will take on all these burdens. So marriage is out. It is going to be another 7 to ten years before Kanchana and Kavitha find their own moorings”.

“Hmmmm….and what kind of life do you want for them”, Sara asked.

“A happy, contented, fulfilling life. Kanchana has been a topper and is in IIT in Mumbai. She is taking her GRE exams and will surely go off to do her MS in the US”, he said and looked into his latte.

“What does Kavitha do?” Sara asked.

“She is in medical college and it is going to be three more years to her MBBS….then another three to four, maybe even five for her to take a PG qualification or speciality. Then where her life will take her is in the laps of the Gods”, he murmured. “Saturday is the only day I get to myself. The girls take turns to care for my father and I get to go out”.

“Now I understand our Saturday rendezvous” said Sara as she looked at Rajeev. “I hope you don’t mind my asking…do you ever resent being tied up with others interests ahead of your own?”

“Not now! Initially I used to be morose and angry at my situation. However, over the years…five plus to be exact…I have accepted the fact that I consciously made this choice. I have grown used to the routine and I know no other. So, it is okay, I guess!”

A few Saturdays later Rajeev said, “Can I come and meet your parents?”

“Why not? But I must warn you that my mother has Dementia. She is diabetic and cannot remember much” said Sara.

Rajeev met Mr Menon and they clicked immediately. They shared a passion for world affairs and political discussions and they had a lot to talk about. The Saturday afternoon coffee session was often held in Sara’s home. Some days Rajeev met her after work if one of his sisters was home. A year went by and Mr Menon opened up to Rajeev about his wish to see Sara married. Rajeev said that he would be honoured to have her as ahis wife but his role as a husband had to be on Saturdays only. Sara thought about it and with her own commitment to her parents, she agreed.

The wedding was a quiet one. Their married life too was a no frills, no drama relationship. Rajeev came on Saturdays to Sara’s home and she went with him on Sundays to his home. She went to work from there on Monday mornings and went back to her parents that evening. They both showered affection and attention on each other in the forty odd hours that they spent together.

The sands in the hour glass flowed freely. Sadly, her father suddenly passed away in his sleep after a heart attack. Her mother was all but lost to the world with the dementia ruling her mind and body. This restricted Sara’s movements even more until one day her mother just walked out into the road escaping the firm grip of her caregiver and was hit by a car. Her end came two days later.

Sara was free but was soon catapulted into a different role in her academic world. She began to be recognized as a brilliant speaker. She was called to interview luminaries in the literary world. From there it was a short hop to hobnobbing with political luminaries who had ghost written biographies and memoirs. Then she was cast on as an anchor on the small screen and her travels all across the country and world took off.

Meanwhile Rajeev’s father passed away. His sisters found their own moorings and sailed across to seas to USA and Australia and Rajeev found time on his hands. Everybody in their family and friends circle were now convinced that this couple would be able to set up a life together after all these years of living separate lives in their own establishments. Rajeev accompanied Sara on some of her trips abroad.

parisOn their trip to Paris, they sat down to discuss their lives and how it was going to shape up now that both were alone without other responsibilities. Sara sat across the table on the pavement in the city of love. She had an espresso in front of her while Rajeev was trying out a café noir. “Where is our life going, Sara”, Rajeev asked.

“I have been thinking about this Rajeev….it is not simple. I have grown used to being on my own for the most part. I enjoy the brief time that we spend together immensely….but….”

“I don’t think we can sustain it….”, said Rajeev regretfully, stopping to catch his breath.

“24×7”, Sara completed the thought with a firm voice that brooked no further discussion.

It was business, love and marriage for them as usual.

Posted in Society, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Life – Living

Life

The clock is ticking away

The seconds of living

We have only one life

A life to live, love, be, die

How many deaths

In a life do we live

How many heart stopping

Stomach curdling

Blood freezing moments

When we stop living

Until that final breath

Is drawn and exhaled

But not breathed in again

When we totally stop

LivingLife.jpg

 

Posted in Life skills, Poetry, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Demonetisation..Suggestions for improving ease of doing business

Demonetisation: Suggestions for improving ease of doing business

Prof N Natarajan

2000

It is a fact that there are long queues in front of banks and ATMs. Thousands of ATMs are still being configured to dispense new 2000 rupee notes. This job is in the domain of private parties. It is taking considerable time. Banks are doing a splendid job. Barring a few excited customers who are easily provoked by mindless opposition by political parties and those with an axe to grind, the general population has also shown admirable patience and understanding in this hour of difficulty. They appreciate that the demonetisation proposal had to be handled in extreme secrecy and hence advance preparation beyond what has been done was just not possible. Hopefully things will vastly improve in the coming weeks. However in the meanwhile here are a few suggestions for improving the ease of currency exchange and cash withdrawal:

1. Banks should make more counters operational.

2. Separate counters should be set up for deposit of cash, exchange of old notes for new and withdrawal of cash.

3. Every branch should have one exclusive counter for senior citizens.old

4. No photocopy of any identity card should be required for withdrawal of cash by a customer of the bank when submitting cheques. Any third party should be allowed to take cash upto Rs2000/- against cheques issued by the bank’s customer without being harassed to prove his identity. It is the responsibility of the customer whose cheque is being cashed.

5. There should be no need for a payee to submit both the original and a photocopy of his identity. Verification of the original and Xerox results is avoidable wastage of time at the counter. A self attested photocopy should suffice as pointed out by our PM himself.

6. Banks should deal sensitively with the tired waiting customers especially where there are serpentine queues. A good idea will be to have a volunteer to distribute drinking water on demand. At least water can and a glass should be placed in a conspicuous location. A few chairs to sit down temporarily will also help.

7. Indians tend to push and try to get ahead of their positions when standing in queues, creating unnecessary tension for themselves and others. Hence a system of issuing tokens, as is customary in most banks for daily transactions, and calling out numbers will remove this tension.

8. Some frustrated customers do lose their temper. Bank staff should keep their cool in those trying circumstances and not engage in a slanging or shouting match. It will only increase the ire of the waiting person.

9. Banks should temporarily engage retired staff to cope with the new temporary demand. Responsible citizens can also volunteer.

10. Government should appeal to all shops which accept debit cards to remove the self imposed lower monetary limit for acceptance of cards to increase cashless transactions. Govt can consider reimbursing transaction fee if any. Currently, many shops have a lower limit of Rs 250 per transaction.

Epilogue: One is reminded of an old joke in banking circles when automation was first introduced. The top management of a bank sent circulars to managers of all upcountry branches under the caption ‘Change Management’. The circular explained the revolutionary changes in the pipeline. It pointed out the new work environment in which a lot of manually performed back office work was going to be substituted by computers and how there would be a realignment of human resources. It sought to prepare the existing staff mentally for re-training to handle the new processes.

One overworked branch manager responded immediately after just reading the caption: “This branch has no change management problem. We have lined up a large inventory of change of all denominations. We can even assist other branches that are facing a deficiency in this regard.” His response would have been music to the ears of big bank bosses in the current scenario

Prof N Natarajan

It is a fact that there are long queues in front of banks and ATMs. Thousands of ATMs are still being configured to dispense new 2000 rupee notes. This job is in the domain of private parties. It is taking considerable time. Banks are doing a splendid job. Barring a few excited customers who are easily provoked by mindless opposition by political parties and those with an axe to grind, the general population has also shown admirable patience and understanding in this hour of difficulty. They appreciate that the demonetisation proposal had to be handled in extreme secrecy and hence advance preparation beyond what has been done was just not possible. Hopefully things will vastly improve in the coming weeks. However in the meanwhile here are a few suggestions for improving the ease of currency exchange and cash withdrawal:

1. Banks should make more counters operational.

2. Separate counters should be set up for deposit of cash, exchange of old notes for new and withdrawal of cash.

3. Every branch should have one exclusive counter for senior citizens.

4. No photocopy of any identity card should be required for withdrawal of cash by a customer of the bank when submitting cheques. Any third party should be allowed to take cash upto Rs2000/- against cheques issued by the bank’s customer without being harassed to prove his identity. It is the responsibility of the customer whose cheque is being cashed.

5. There should be no need for a payee to submit both the original and a photocopy of his identity. Verification of the original and Xerox results is avoidable wastage of time at the counter. A self attested photocopy should suffice as pointed out by our PM himself.

6. Banks should deal sensitively with the tired waiting customers especially where there are serpentine queues. A good idea will be to have a volunteer to distribute drinking water on demand. At least water can and a glass should be placed in a conspicuous location. A few chairs to sit down temporarily will also help.

7. Indians tend to push and try to get ahead of their positions when standing in queues, creating unnecessary tension for themselves and others. Hence a system of issuing tokens, as is customary in most banks for daily transactions, and calling out numbers will remove this tension.

8. Some frustrated customers do lose their temper. Bank staff should keep their cool in those trying circumstances and not engage in a slanging or shouting match. It will only increase the ire of the waiting person.

9. Banks should temporarily engage retired staff to cope with the new temporary demand. Responsible citizens can also volunteer.

10. Government should appeal to all shops which accept debit cards to remove the self imposed lower monetary limit for acceptance of cards to increase cashless transactions. Govt can consider reimbursing transaction fee if any. Currently, many shops have a lower limit of Rs 250 per transaction.

Epilogue: One is reminded of an old joke in banking circles when automation was first introduced. The top management of a bank sent circulars to managers of all upcountry branches under the caption ‘Change Management’. The circular explained the revolutionary changes in the pipeline. It pointed out the new work environment in which a lot of manually performed back office work was going to be substituted by computers and how there would be a realignment of human resources. It sought to prepare the existing staff mentally for re-training to handle the new processes.

One overworked branch manager responded immediately after just reading the caption: “This branch has no change management problem. We have lined up a large inventory of change of all denominations. We can even assist other branches that are facing a deficiency in this regard.” His response would have been music to the ears of big bank bosses in the current scenario

Posted in Current Events, Prof Natarajan's Blogs, Society | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ATMs–Then and Now

atm

ATMs–Then and Now

Prof N Natarajan

The latest news is that nearly 95000 ATM’s across the country are yet to be configured to accept and dispense the new notes. This exercise may take weeks. Another piece of news is that Canara Bank has deployed mobile vans to exchange notes.

My memory takes me to 1987 when my bank decided to install the first ATM. There were numerous problems. The first was to obtain a licence from RBI which treated an offsite ATM as a new branch. Foreign banks were not allowed to open new branches or even shift an existing branch to a new area without clearing a whole lot of red tape. Every ATM, even in the branch premises, had to be sanctioned by RBI. Further the Government and RBI’s permission had to be obtained for importing the machine which necessarily involved foreign exchange. RBI preferred foreign banks to pay for the machine in foreign exchange using their accumulations abroad. This was a hurdle too. Finally, an ATM that cost Rs 34 lakhs, a fortune in those days, was procured. Another factor was our overseas Head office’s concern about the justification of the huge capital expenditure. We were unable to ‘prove’ beyond reasonable doubt the viability of a business that did not exist. Our HO reluctantly took our word for it.

Our bank crossed all these hurdles successfully over a period of 12months. Then we were advised that ATMs were akin to human beings in many ways. They could work only in a highly efficient dedicated air-conditioned environment. The ATM’S had to have a pace maker called UPS to maintain regular supply and orderly shutdown when the electricity went off. A standby generator was required for the ATM’s to function if there was extended power failure.  They had to be erected on anchor bolts buried deep in concrete to ensure that they were not stolen in the night. The ATM machines had to be on a perfect level and would not tolerate any tilt, right or left. Fire protection was another mandatory requirement. Even with all these addons, the machines would catch cold now and then. Specialist doctors from the supplying firms had to be summoned to diagnose the infection. Our internal quality compliances demanded 24/7/365 operation and 99% uptime.

These requirements meant an even more initial investment and a lot of running costs. Our General Manager Operations was losing his sleep with nightmares. During a siesta, after beer and lunch,  he ‘had a dream’ . He knew it was a mirage, yet he wanted to lift his team’s sunken spirits  by describing his super- vision. He said the solution was for the bank to set up a widow type ATM. Customers could insert their cards and key in their currency requirements. These would be received by an invisible human teller in a secure room who would then verify the veracity of the demand and pass on the cash to the customer through the money dispensing slit in the window. No explanation had to be given for rejecting a request. This arrangement would not need fail safe clean power or 22 degrees air conditioning.  The capital expenditure would be negligible and operating costs only a small fraction of operating an ATM. No special permissions, RBI nods and budgetary compliances would be required. The team had a good laugh and went back to their arduous tasks cheerfully.

Looking back, I get the feeling that the 1978 dream of our General Manager can be translated into action in the present ATM crisis.

The bank branches could have a human ‘hand’ behind every ATM and the size or shape or colour or denomination of the Rupee would simply not matter!

What do you say to a semi-automated teller machine SATM?

Posted in Current Events, Prof Natarajan's Blogs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment