Gone Too Soon…

Growing up in Hyderabad, Ravi, Sridhar and Srinivas were very common names, with there being 3-4 in each middle school class. So, by necessity we had to add a descriptive prefix or suffix to the names. There was choTa Ravi, moTa Ravi, PeddA Sridhar, chinna Sridhar etc. Ravi was – choTa Ravi, potti Ravi, MN Ravi Kumar, MNRK, Kannada Ravi and more recently Ravi Mysore. ChoTa Ravi, with a baDaa dil left a void for all of us that is much bigger than his physical self. We recently gathered to reminisce about the fun times we had with Ravi all these years and to honor his memory. Please join me in this walk down memory lane

Open House @ Pratap Mahal

Picture an old apartment complex. Two floors of tightly packed units seemingly representing all of middle class India. There was plenty of open space, and all this was enclosed in a compound wall. This was the famous Pratap Mahal complex of Khairatabad. It was just a few blocks from the main road and you’d get to it by walking on a narrow road that straddles a naala (creek) on one side and the Institution of Engineers building on the other. At the end of the road, you will enter Pratap Mahal, which was next door to Nasr School, which was a prestigious school for girls.

My best friend Ravi and his family lived in the corner unit and I was a fixture at their place from 1975 onwards. We were classmates from 7th grade in Kendriya Vidyalaya Golconda, KVG (“passed out” in 1977 🙂  )  and all the way through engineering college (@ JNTU). There were 5 members in the family. Murthy uncle, Rathna Aunty, Ajji (grandmother), Ravi and his younger brother Manju. 

It felt like it was always open-house and open-hearts at their place!  While we were classmates and friends since 7th grade, we became even closer during college days (Engineering at JNTU).

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The gang in August 1983 (From L-R : Yashodhar, Sashi, Ashok, Ravi, Ravi Shankar, Aditya
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In Allentown (1989) with Ravi, Aunty, Uncle and Manju)

Ravi, Ravi Shankar, Ashok, Aditya and I became very close during the last few years in college and we used to study together. We used to call it “combined studies”, and to be sure, there was some amount of studying involved too! Coincidentally (wink-wink) it was almost always in Ravi’s house (or Ravi Shankar’s sometimes). I am sure it had something to do with the inviting-atmosphere or the awesome music or yummy food during breaks!! This is where I got my intro to Kannada language and Kannada ootaanna, pallya, saaru, thuppa, BisiBeleBhath, uppitte, dosa, sandige and proper Mysore coffee with just the right amount of chicory (that aunty used to get it ground up at this coffee mill in Khairatabad). Aunty and Uncle were always the most welcoming and gracious hosts ever. Aunty would talk in slightly accented Telugu. I have never heard uncle talk in Telugu. Ravi could manage Telugu quite well, although it was heavily accented and did not have the finesse for some people or situations! When Ravi tried to talk to our classmates Shobha and Jayalakshmi in Telugu, they appreciated his efforts but politely encouraged him to switch back to English. BTW, through all these years of interaction with Ravi and his family – I have picked up enough Kannada to understand the language and manage a few sentences in a pinch!

They had an awesome stereo system with amazing speakers! I had never experienced such a sound system before! By contrast – we just owned a basic cassette player (not even a stereo). Fun fact – Murthy uncle was an avid audiophile and had built several powerful audio amplifiers. The powerful amplifier and large speakers could have easily powered a decent sized discotheque! So, you can imagine what they did to the small living room (or the neighboring apartments)! They had an extensive collection of vinyl LP records. The western collection had Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkle, Boney M, Abba, BeeGees, Beatles, Carpenters, John Denver, Cerrone etc just to name a few. The most notable Bollywood one they had was Sholay, which they bought as soon as the movie was released. RD Burman’s score for Sholay blasted from those speakers was phenomenal. We used to spend hours on weekends copying the songs from his extensive collection of vinyls on to cassettes. These were our version of “recording sessions”, and my introduction to western music. We used to come home with all these recordings and blast them away in our puny cassette player. My parents used to freak out and complain about the “racket” we were creating! “What’s all this noise? Why don’t you listen to some nice Indian music?”

There is no better blend of east and west or spiritual and material than listening to MS Subbulakshmi’s  “Vishnu-Sahasra-Namam” immediately followed by Boney M’s Daddy Cool or ABBA’s Waterloo or BeeGees’ Stayin Alive!

This was part of the morning routine at the Ravi household. Aunty or maybe Ajji would request Vishu-Sahasra-Namam and then right after that we would start off with the loud BOOM-BOOM-BOOM of BoneyM or Abba or BeeGees! We pretty much monopolized the music. Very rarely did any other (Kannada or Hindi) music get played. I do remember they owned a couple of 45 rpm vinyl records with good Rajan-Nagendra hits like “Neerabittu Nelada Mele Dhoni sagadu” and “Jeeva Veene neeDu miDitada Sangeetha” from the movie “Hombisilu”.

Quizzing Times

In the first year of college, Ravi, Sitaram and I discovered our common love for quizzing. We participated in the college annual quiz competition and beat all the other teams easily. We repeated that for the next 3 years! Ravi was our pop culture expert who came up with the correct obscure details about Rock Stars, western movies etc. to save us in competitions! At various intercollegiate level competitions in Hyderabad, we got a couple of 2nd place finishes and a first place in Nizam College festival! It was always fun showing off our knowledge of the trivia and we made some good friends in the quizzing fraternity – who we kept running into at every competition. We later started our own (short lived) quiz club called “Quizibisa”. I covered all the fun we had during our quizzing days in an earlier blog entry: Who or what, is or was… ?

Bindaas

Both Ravi and I came out of our “shell” in college. We were reserved and kept to ourselves in school. In college, the differences in our basic personalities became apparent and amplified. He became a more spontaneous, free-spirited, outgoing and ”bindaas” type of guy. In contrast, I remained a more serious and reserved one, although, his nature did rub off on me over the years. He would make friends easily with folks from other branches of engineering, seniors, juniors, girls etc. He was very approachable and didn’t have the traditional airs of someone who is a couple of years senior in college. He was always helpful and would dole out advice to the juniors on which topics to focus on for exams and which professors repeated old exam papers etc.  By the time we graduated (in 1983) and I moved to the US, he had a large group of close friends from our junior classes who were in touch with him all through these years.  Since JNTU days he moved to IIT Kanpur, Gainesville Florida, New Brunswick NJ, Freehold NJ, Conshohocken PA, Ridley Park PA, Bangalore and Columbia Maryland, with one summer in Amsterdam. Since his last move back from Bangalore to Maryland (around 2008), he has continued that “open house – open heart” tradition and helped out his extended family and friends with whatever was needed. Ravi and Chandrika have helped children of several of our friends who were either going to school in the area or moved to the DC area for jobs. Just a couple of months ago he had sent a whatsapp message to our friend and classmate in India offering to help his daughter when she comes over to the US for grad school. He said “Don’t worry, I will help her out! She is the same age as my kids and is like my daughter. That University is only 3.5 hrs. from my house!!” That is so typical of Ravi!

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Four Turbaned Ravis at Ramya’s wedding

Torrent of Memories

  1. When black and white television was first introduced in Hyderabad, Doordarshan used to televise one movie per week (on Sundays). I used to come down to Pratap Mahal to watch the movie (as we did not own a TV back then). It was always a fun experience! We would sit outside and watch through the window, because there would be a sizable crowd already in the living room and also it was more fun goofing off with friends (and trying out one-liners) than sitting and seriously following the movie! Sweet memories..
  2. As a goof, we all decided that Ravi should contest in the student body elections (for General Secretary) to represent the cool and nerdy non-political students! There were two extremely polarized politically supported candidates representing ABVP and PDSU, who could not give a proper speech in English (we thought) and that was where Ravi would come in and dazzle everyone, we thought! Of course, these were not intellectually challenging times or elections, so nobody cared about this “independent candidate”. As expected, one of them won and Ravi came in a distant 3rd place. But on the bright side, while we did get threatened with violence (which was quite normal during student elections, in those days), we actually did not get beat up. We did have a lot of fun networking with the student body and also provided much needed comic relief! 
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    With Sashi. Modelling the ‘election campaign look’ 🙂
  3. On the college trip to the Thermal power plant, we had a sumptuous lunch at Ashok’s relative’s house in Vijayawada. After that Ravi, Ravi Shankar and I came back to the hotel room and on the way had some MeeTa Paan.  We got back to the room and passed out for several hours. We were so out-of-it that we did not even shut the door of the hotel room.  We suspected that the Paan was spiked with some kind of drug!
  4. Ravi and I came up with an original approach to calm ourselves before stressful exams. We picked a Neil Diamond song (“Solitary Man”) that we both loved and then used it to calm our minds for weeks before the exam. Then on the day of the exam, we listened to this just before going to college. This Pavlovian method worked wonders! Looks like we came up with an early form of “Mindfulness”!!
  5. I have vivid memories of experiencing my first (and only) full Solar eclipse with Ravi at Pratap Mahal on Feb 16th 1980. 
  6. Ravi, Ravi Shankar and I did a month of summer Internship at HAL – Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (thanks to Murthy Uncle who worked there). It was here that we saw the application of what we had learnt in the dreaded “Antennas and Wave Propagation” class)
  7. Ravi and I were regulars at all the movie theaters in the city that showed western movies – Skyline, Sangeet, Liberty, Plaza and Paradise. I have fond memories of watching some of the classics in these old stand-alone theaters – Saturday Night Fever, Jaws, Godfather, Airplane (released in India as “Flying High”), Raiders of the Lost Ark etc.
  8. Just before we graduated from college, the gang of 5 (Aditya, Ashok, Ravi, Ravi Shankar and I), went on an outing to Ananthagiri Hills, which was a nice forested area and had a government guest house on the top of a hill offering amazing panoramic views. It was about 50 miles to the west of Hyderabad. We took 3 scooters. On the way back Ravi’s scooter died! We could not find a way to get it fixed. So, we did the next best thing – to tie that scooter with a rope to another one and tow it all the way! This was some precarious towing over 20 miles while Ravi Shankar balanced the dead Vespa being pulled by a rope. Obviously there was no easy mechanism for him to know if the guy pulling would need to brake! How we managed to pull that off (pun intended) is one of those youthful miracles that cannot be explained!
  9. Over the years our typical phone calls would always start off with a mock Kannada conversation (remember that my Kannada is limited to basic pleasantries) : “Yo Ravi.. Yen MaaDthaide?”, “Yaenu iLLa Yashodhar.. Chenna Gi Dira?” “, “Of course, Chenna gir gaya”! , “Yaaru Beku ree?” “Meena Bakery”!! Ha.. ha!!     I had a very similar conversation in the 1st week of May when we talked about the kids and long term plans etc. He was his usual mellow self (which was a gradual change over the years from his boisterous college days). Before we ended the conversation he touched on his and Chandrika’s plans of moving back to India for retirement. That would be our last conversation, as he passed away 2 weeks later on May 20th 2018, quite suddenly, drowning all of his loved ones in shock, dismay and sorrow.

I will cherish these fond memories of Ravi forever! Chandrika, Ganesh and Ajay have a large extended family here in the US. We are all part of that extended family and we are here for the journey forward with Ravi always in our hearts.

I would love to hear your personal fun stories of/with Ravi. Please add them in  the comments section below..

“Who OR what, is OR was?”

(This story is certified 100% Organic and  95% non-fiction!)

We were on fire! It must have been our lucky day- we were breezing through all the questions…

“Who is Lot’s wife?”

“What is Mahayana?”

“What is Hejira”

“Who is Odin?”

There – we demolished the Religion and Mythology category on Jeopardy and high five’ed each other as the show went to a break before “Final Jeopardy”.

It was winter break for Vidya and this was our daily routine as soon as I came home from work.  We would sit down with unhealthy munchies  in front of the TV waiting for Jeopardy to start. For years now,  Alex Trebek (the host of Jeopardy) has been an intimate part of our evening/dinner routine! We would answer (or “question” in  this case -as Jeopardy has an “Answer & Question” format and not the other way around) along with the contestants. We had our favorite categories – Vidya’s were Pop & Rock Music, Mythologies, Geography & Current affairs. I was generally good at Religion, 70s, 80s, 90s Pop culture & TV shows, Movies and Current Affairs. It turns out that, under pressure, we were pretty good at making intelligent guesses. We were both pretty good that day! Barring categories like Sports, British Monarchy, American History, etc., I was generally good at Jeopardy, as long as I was in my pajamas in my family room and in front of my TV! I would probably fail miserably if I had to do that in the studio! In fact I may not even make it past the qualifier rounds!

 

Nothing Trivial about this Pursuit

Early in our freshmen year of Engineering (1978 in Hyderabad, India), my buddies Sitaram, Ravi and I discovered that we had something in common – all three of us loved digging up and storing obscure & generally “useless” information! I was thrilled to find this niche that we were good at! We used to show off to each other and others around us, at every possible opportunity…

“What is Karen Lunel famous for?”

“Who wrote the script for the English version of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman starrer ‘Guide’?”

“In a Vintner’s world – who or what is a punt?”

Remember – this was all before internet, Google, mobile phones, etc… heck, forget about a mobile phone.. we did not have any  phone in the house. It was before quizzing was made popular by “Quiz Time” (the TV Show by Siddhartha Basu)!

Sitaram had prior experience with the quizzing circuit of Hyderabad and was plugged into what competitions were scheduled and how we could get in. He was the de facto leader of the team and was an expert on current affairs (world & Indian) and overall general knowledge.  He had friends and acquaintances in the circuit. He would point out the strengths and weaknesses of the regulars to Ravi and me.  As we went to a few of these, even Ravi and I started recognizing the regulars among the contestants as well as the Quiz masters. There were teams from all the prestigious schools/colleges of Hyderabad.

The regulars included teams from Hyderabad Public School (HPS), Nizam College, Osmania Engineering, VV College, Little Flowers, etc. There were a  whole range of characters among the participants – from the snobs of HPS to the  shy ones from “Madapati Hanumanth Rao High School”! Our team managed to surprise everyone (including  ourselves) by  consistently placing among the top 5 in the city. Among quiz masters, I clearly remember  Satya Prasad (of K-Circle)  and Y.Prabhakar who were quite popular in the Hyderabadi quizzing circles for their unique styles.

Bala the wunderkind

Those days, you couldn’t miss Bala at any of the city quizzing events!  He stood out at every one of these competitions for the genius that he was. He was probably in 10th or 11th grade and his depth and breadth of knowledge was jaw-dropping!  He would go one up on the quiz masters by giving them more than the necessary answers, on questions which were considered extremely obscure to start with!  “What’s the name of the character from Homer’s Odyssey, which means ‘burner of ships’?”  Bala comes back with “Nausicaa… and her parents were King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Phaeacia”!!  We were sure that he had memorized all the volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica. I wouldn’t doubt it – as I saw him in action! He was proficient in every conceivable area. In the audio-visual portion he could identify the 5th of Beethoven as easily as Charukesi Raga! All the girls were in awe of Bala (so it seemed from the jealous corner that we were sitting in, anyway)!

Ravi covered Western, Rock, Pop music areas as well as mythologies. As for myself – somehow pop culture became my thing and then I sharpened this by going through certain magazines that were popular in those days – India Today, Illustrated Weekly of India and Bombay Magazine – from which I culled obscure, useless (for everyone else) details like – “Who is  Alyque Padamsee’s wife who acted in the Movie KhaTTa MeeTha. For a bonus point – What was her religion?” I remember once, in the audio/visual section, they played the signature tune of “All India Radio”, and then asked –  “This signature tune of AIR was based on Raga Shivaranjani. Who composed it?”. After the first few guys went for the obvious guesses of “Ravi Shankar” or “Hari Prasad Chaurasia”, Bala jumped in with “Walter Kauffman, in 1936, a Jewish refugee, originally from Czechoslovakia, who was then the Director at AIR!”

 

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Certified!!

Our own Quiz club?

It turned out that Bala actually lived not too far from my house. As we kept running into each other at various competitions, we became friends and decided that the city was big enough to accommodate another Quiz Club – so we started one! We named it Quizzibisa (a take-off on the name of the British Afro Pop band  – Osibisa)! It was a very small group that met in the Community Hall across from my house.  As far as I can remember now, there was Bala, Ravi, I, and a few other friends from my colony. We took turns being the quiz master and running through the standard quiz routine. We started the club with a lot of enthusiasm, but could not sustain it past a couple of months – as real life interfered in the form of crucial exams!

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Sure.. This could happen!

On a typical Hyderabadi summer day I was  standing at the bus stop with my signature cloth bag and this beautiful girl walked up and said – “Weren’t you the one that  won the quiz competition  at our college yesterday?!!”. I figured she was from Osmania Medical College, as she had that white coat and stethoscope on her arm. “You guys were amazing! I especially loved how you answered the question about AIR signature tune! By the way – is that tune really in Shivaranjani Raga? I used to think that  it was Mohana Raga!”. Looks like she mistook me for one of the guys who actually won the competition! Oh well… no need to clarify these minor details! She was going on and on about specific questions from the other day… “It’s amazing how  you guys knew that a grand piano has 16 fewer black keys than white ones!”. “Do you take this bus to go home everyday?” “Wow, really? Me too!”… etc, etc…

That, dear Ramya and Vidya, is how I met your mother! 😉

 

 

Down Memory Lane… Then Turn Right at Artillery Center

Strike and Boycott – two words that I had never heard of while in school were commonplace when I got into Engineering College!  It looked like we were boycotting classes for no reason at all or at the whims of the student leaders who had the muscle power and political backing to do whatever they wanted. Halfway through the first year at the JNTU College of Engineering , we found ourselves on strike again. The reason for the strike must not have been too important or compelling, as  I do not remember it now. Coming from Kendriya Vidyalaya system of schools (Central Government administered schools for the children of transferable Central Govt employees) where there was heavy emphasis on  strict discipline  to  this engineering college  – where there was no respect for authority, the contrast was stark and was quite shocking and amusing for me.

Initially it started as walking out of the classes and raising slogans against whoever/whatever was supposed to be “oppressing us”.. then goofing off on campus, while the militant student leaders did their thing, like  throwing stones at passing buses and shouting at the policemen that were lined up and ready for action.  The rest of us spent most of our days sipping endless cups of chai in the makeshift canteen which was run by a middle aged north Indian lady near the bicycle stand. She was quite entertaining – regaling us with stories of student life in Delhi. I remember her telling us how “smart and fast the girls of Miranda House” were.  She had two kids working for her, appropriately named “Chotu” and “Munna”. Back then, these seemed to be the most popular generic names for every chai wallah’s helpers! These guys would walk around the “campus” peddling chai, yummy samosas and curry puffs to all the students hanging around.  It was barely a “campus” – hardly 4-5 acres on which we had the engineering college and a much larger Architecture and Fine Arts College.

Reunion – Bollywood Style!

On day 3 of that particular strike,  I could sense that the atmosphere was beginning to get more tense.  The students  spilled onto the main road across from the college which connected Mehdipatnam area with Nampally/Abids area. Mahavir hospital was directly across from the college on the other side of the road. Slogan-shouting students halted the buses and emptied the horrified passengers from them. Then they flattened the tires of these buses – which essentially made  the main road impassable! I watched all this in horror! A line of policemen, looking stern and  ready with their Laathis (wooden rod used by police in India as a club) were waiting for the order to thrash the students who were generally disrupting the traffic and creating havoc.   I saw one lanky policeman smiling at me..   “Yashodhar?” he said softly.. hesitantly..   I was shocked. He introduced himself as Ramsingh! I immediately made the connection. He was my classmate from  KVG (Kendriya Vidyalaya Golconda) – which was my school from 2nd grade to 11th grade! Wow.. This was quite a  surprise. I had not seen him since 6th or 7th grade – which would be about 1972! I thought he either dropped out or moved to some other school. I remember he stood out in the class – as the tall one (along with another one- Nasir). He was the  quiet and shy type and was always hanging out with his  close buddy Ramswaroop (who was at least a foot shorter than Ramsingh).   He said that he left KVG and went to a state school after which he went into police force.   It felt great connecting with an old friend after almost 6 years. Excitedly and animatedly, we started catching up on the past 6 years right there on the main road surrounded by rioting students and stalled traffic!

“Where is Ramswaroop – your twin, now?” I said with a wink and a smile..
“Guess what –  S.Sridhar and Y.V.N are here in JNTU with me – Civil and Mechanical”
“Where is your brother P.Sridhar?”

“Remember Mahalaxmi , who lived in Langerhouse? She is  married  and has a baby now!”

As the Police Inspector arrived, he had to go back and line up with the rest of his police buddies. I went back to my friends who were quite curious about my police-friend. Luckily for us, that day, the lathicharge (i.e clubbing by the police)  did not happen and I did not get thrashed by my long lost friend – which would have  been quite a bollywoodesque event!

“two jigri dost get separated after 6th grade and then meet up after several years under tragic circumstances. One is a cop and the other rowdy student!    The good guy (cop) gets to beat up the bad guy (student disrupting traffic  – and thereby stopping blind-pregnant-old lady from entering the hospital for delivery.  Right after a few blows, cop recognizes Yashodhar and then emotional reunion scene ensues “Ramsingh!!”  “Yashodhar”!! Hugging followed by a  sentimental song. Then each get’s his own heroine to sing songs with etc..  After several song and dance sequences, they both get to fight the real villain – the dirty politician who was behind all the student agitations.  Throw in a few more sentimental scenes about the mom losing eyesight in the beginning of the movie and regaining at the end of the movie after singing the heart wrenching song in praise of multiple gods – and we have a 70s style blockbuster!”

That evening I went home and told my family and other friends from KVG about meeting my old friend Ramsingh under the unusual circumstances. I located the old photo album – which was bulging with black and white photos. I quickly found the class photo that I was searching for  – the one from 5th grade! In fact, that was the only class photo that we ever bought! My brother Sridhar and I were in the same grade from 2nd grade onwards when we transferred to KVG from a state school.  For some reason,  we never bought any other class photos except for the 5th grade one!!

Class Photo: KVG, 5th grade (1971)(click for enlarged view)
Class Photo: KVG, 5th grade (1971)  (click for enlarged view)

There it was – with our principal Mr Gangal, class teacher Mrs Sudha Mathur , and the entire class in the old KVG school which was in military barracks right next to the wall of the Golconda Fort. Ramsingh was in the middle of the last row along with the other tall ones – Nasir and  Arif. These guys were quite literally a foot and half taller than me!  It was fun going through the photo – reminiscing about each of the classmates from 5th grade!

“Didn’t Leena become a model? Yes we saw her and her sister Neelam  do a fashion show at the convention center in Khairatabad”
“Sudha is doing M.B.B.S in Osmania”
“Rajan’s dad owned a large poultry farm in Premnagar. I wonder if he followed in his dad’s footsteps”
“Remember how Arun got into trouble with Nabi sir for skipping classes and stealing from the army canteen”

As you can see, ours was a co-ed school. But we hardly ever talked with our classmates of opposite sex – out of mortal fear that we’d be teased for having an affair (Ha!) . The only contact I had with a girl (4th or 5th grade) was when one of them violently disapproved of something I said! Those nails did leave scratch marks that lasted for a while!  I didn’t notice it back then , but now, I find it remarkable that everyone except two of the girls had a solemn/serious look in this photo.

A Sentimental Fool!

Later we started talking about our graduating class. I started getting very nostalgic and sentimental about the school, my friends and the teachers.  I was upset that we did not buy the class photos of other grades especially the one for the final year graduating class. The strike continued to drag on. One day while I was at college, I suddenly decided that I should go to school and see if there was any way that I could now buy a copy of the class photo! I was never the  spontaneous and sentimental type  person back then (same as  today!).  So I surprised myself that day by quietly leaving my friends and  riding off westward (on my trademark blue BSA  sports bicycle) towards Kendriya Vidyalaya Golconda!

So, off I went on the familiar bus route that I had taken for 11 years –  from Masab Tank and cutting through the army territory to finally arrive at the school in Langerhouse. We had moved into this new school in about 1973. Back then, we all helped with the landscaping for the brand new school grounds as part of the CCA (Co-Curricular Activity) classes.

I walked into school office  – where I met the accountant- Agarwal sir. I introduced myself and explained the reason for my trip back to school. He told me that the school did not have any of the class photos and that I would have to go check with the photographer.  He said, “go to Artillery Center Stadium area and just ask anyone about Babbar Studios!” Everyone in school  knew that Ramesh Babbar’s (my senior in KVG) family owned the studio and they were the official photographers for all school photos – including class photos and other school  functions.

I immediately set off towards Artillery Center Stadium, which was adjacent to the Golconda Fort. This was only about 3 kms from school but back then it felt like it was far far away! Once I got to the stadium area, I pulled into the army housing/offices area next to the stadium and asked the jawans about Babbar Photo Studio. They pointed me to a small grey/light blue single floor building which was quite indistinguishable from all others around it. I don’t  remember there being a signboard. I walked in and immediately recognized the photographer. As I mentioned earlier, he was quite a fixture at all school functions. He was tall and fair and had salt and pepper hair. I was out of breath from all the cycling activity as well as from the excitement. It took me a few minutes to calm myself down and explain to him who I was and why I just showed up at his doorstep. He was quite amused by  my little spontaneous adventure that day and said that he would be able to help out. After I told him that ours was the class that graduated after 11th grade in 1977,   he rifled  through what looked like files in a filing cabinet and finally located the negative! I was ecstatic! He told me that he would be able to make me a print if I could wait for an hour! I could not believe it! This was way more than what I had expected. When I left JNTU campus that morning , I had absolutely no expectations of what I would achieve! I was sure he could see the thrilled look on my face!  I told him that I could wait for  as long as he needed. While he got to work on the photo, I walked out and sat on my parked bicycle. I had to pinch myself to be sure that I was not dreaming..

A Parade of Memories

There I was in front of the studio and I could see the majestic and imposing Golconda fort in the background and the Artillery Center Stadium in the foreground. The stadium was the site of all of our  School  Annual Sports day events. This was a huge event for the school. The sports day was modeled after Olympics. The entire student body was divided into 4 groups – Subhash House, Nehru house, Patel house and Sastri house, all of which competed in sports and games. In preparation for the sports day, we used to practice calisthenics for months, along with marching with the Army band.  There were a lot of popular and rousing tunes that the Army bands used for the marches. I clearly remember this following one, but did not realize till much later that this was the famous marching  tune called “Colonel Bogey March” and was used in the world war II movie “The Bridge on River Kwai.”

If I close my eyes, even now I can picture the students in all white emerging through the ceremonial gateway to the loud bugle sounds followed by the army band (in their regal finery).  I can still hear Seshgiri Rao sir (our Hindi teacher) – providing commentary from the commentator’s box as we marched with pride. He used to describe the festive and colorful atmosphere and his favorite quotation was the popular poem from our 6th or 7th grade Hindi book –

“Hum Panchi unmukth gagan ke, Pinjar badhh na Ga paayenge” – that nicely summarized the indomitable spirit of the young ones marching through. Excellent  English language commentary was provided by Mrs. Ramayya, who had the perfect diction for such commentary.
 The parents were also included in some of the games and races as well. I remember my parents winning a prize in the lemon and spoon race one year!
As I was deep in flashback mode, reminiscing about the glorious school days, I had not realized that it was over an hour and that the photographer had walked out to announce that it was done!  I snapped out of it and almost ran back in  – as I was eager to see the end product
 
11th Grade graduating class with all of the teachers of the school (1977)
11th Grade graduating class with all of the teachers of the school (1977) (click for enlarged view)

There it was on the drawing board – about 8 x 10 or so in size. He had actually mounted it on a beautiful cardboard frame. I eagerly scanned through to see who all were there! This was a unique photo in the sense that – in addition to all of my classmates and friends it also had the entire staff of the school (both teaching and non-teaching).  There was my 2nd grade class teacher Mrs Joseph and all of my 11th grade teachers along with teachers for all the years in between. Right in the middle was Mr Gangal – our principal, uncharacteristically without his suit! I guess it must have been a very hot day!  I immediately noted that at least 4 of my classmates were missing from the photo – Ravi, Rangesh, Nagendra and Kanaka .. and, oh yeah.. there’s that broken window that I remember so well!

I repeatedly expressed my gratitude to the photographer for going out of his way to fulfill my request, which he certainly did and so beautifully too! He refused to take any payment for his work and said that he was happy to help out!

I rushed back home with a beaming smile and the class photo! With a dramatic flourish – I unveiled the photo to my surprised family! We all gathered around it and reminisced about every individual that made an indelible impression on us for over 10 years in that school (granted.. some of those impressions were accompanied  by choice blessings like – “Naalayak” or “Badthameez”, but they were  impressions nevertheless).  Sridhar and I promptly wrote down the names of everyone (students and staff) on the back – just so we won’t forget the names as the photo and/or memories fade!  Folks.. today, I would like to announce that after 35 years neither the photo nor the memories faded!