Mahesh Bhai!

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Mahesh Kothari was the Chairman and Managing Director of Exedy India Ltd when he died on 25th  January 2017!

I must thank God that Rajendra Shitut (God bless his soul) was my classmate. I came in touch with Ceekay through Rajendra, who used to then work for Ceekay. With Rajendra, I went to Ceekay office at Nariman Point in Mumbai; at first, I met Pradeep Chinai the MD, and we just hit off. (Ceekay later became Exedy India Ltd) Then I met Mahesh Bhai; I did not know how to place Mahesh Bhai as I could see that he was different. We chatted, then he took me out for lunch, he was a little serious by nature, but I don’t know when our relationship changed to friendship and then into the family! I had become Ceekay advisor in 1981 and continued to date.  I was taking my baby steps in professional life, and Mahesh Bhai discretely guided me as if I was his younger brother.

I am so lucky that I knew him when one reads about bad things in this world, I have always wondered that when there are humans like Mahesh Bhai in this world, how the world could go wrong. He was the epitome of clarity of thoughts, softness and purpose in life; he was definitely “Clutch Man of India.” In his way, he has guided many at Aurangabad plant through their career. Desai, Medsing, Malani, Kale, Shekhar, to name a few. Mahesh Bhai had a great ability to get the right people in the right place. Most accompanied him till the end in his life’s journey.

I have seen a few professionals in my life from close, but Mahesh Bhai with his empathy, kindness raced well ahead of others though others may have been equally good technically, business acumen wise and thoroughness. He used to get a bit agitated sometimes, and he could not withstand people who were not clear in their mind. He had a great generosity to accept errors made by others. I was always amazed by his ability to know minutest of the technical details from the factory shop floor. I asked Mahesh Bhai once about this, and he smiled and said, “Pramod, I just remember such details, somehow.”

Maheshbhai would never mince words and always called a spade a spade! Once during a meeting with a senior officer of a large manufacturing unit, we were bombarded by the officer about the poor quality, even before we sat in the chair. The officer continued his diatribe without allowing us to say a word. After things cooled down a bit, I said, “Could you call your person who is handling our product at your end?” The person came and was asked to explain the quality problems of the clutches supplied by us. He said, “The problem is not with their supplies; it is there for the other vendor’s supplies.” The senior officer was ashen-faced and mumbled, “Sorry boss! I did not mean to say this. Would you have a cup of tea?” Maheshbhai got up and said, “Thanks for the offer for tea, we just had it with someone else. Please remember one thing, if you don’t mean to say something, don’t say it!”

Another excellent quality in him was humility. Once he called me early morning and gave me a piece of his mind. The general rule was, when he spoke, you would just listen. At the end of the discussion, I told him, “I will study the issue more and come back to you, but perception on this appears based on insufficient data.” After two hours, he called me again. He said, “Pramod, my apologies! I passed judgment based on insufficient data.” As a CMD he did not have to apologise, but that was Maheshbhai for you!

In another incident, we were making clutches as per customer’s design, but there were severe warranty failures. Customers engineering team would not allow us to change the design. Our efforts to convince the customer were not succeeding. We were a single source. One day in a meeting at the plant, he called me and said, “Pramod, tell that engineer who has come, that we are stopping the manufacture of this item after one week.” With his firm stand, the design was modified in two months, and the issue was resolved.

Till the  5/6 years back, Mahesh Bhai used to visit Pune regularly, and it was always a high point for me as I could spend the whole day with him. We would talk on any subject in this world. His working style was that he would never impose anything on anybody. Work just happened. All people in Tata and Bajaj had great respect for Mahesh Bhai as he would always stick to commitments and was forthright in all his dealings.

I have travelled with him from Pune to Aurangabad many times, and he used to love driving. He would always share with me the driving time. We have had many chat sessions with only two of us, at the guest house. He would share many things, he would explain many things, and for me, they were more of training sessions of life. He would care very much about his family. He was 100% family man. He was always very proud of the way his son, Saurabh, grew and matured into an excellent professional and a human being. Saurabh has also picked up a significant number of helpful things from Mahesh Bhai. Lately, when I asked Maheshbhai about his next visit to his daughter in Singapore, he would smile and say “Yes, we will go shortly”!

Aurangabad was his second home. He was so much involved in work if he needed to visit a vendor quickly, he would hop behind on some one’s bike, if required, and rush to resolve some technical issue. All the people at Aurangabad plant were his family. When someone was travelling to Japan for the first time for work, he would personally make sure that the person had the clothing, suit and vegetarian food if required. He wanted to ensure that nobody ran into unnecessary trouble in a foreign country.

Mahesh’s presence for my family functions was always assumed. He would find time in his busy schedule. He always knew small nuances of so many things, Jaya and I would still be amazed. Mahesh, Nauka and two of us have had a few dinners together, and he was a fun person in a small private group. I last met him in Diwali when Jaya and I went to be with him. In spite of his body not supporting him, he, as usual, had very pointed questions about, work and my health (unfortunately both of us had similar health issues on which we exchanged notes), my children. He asked me when we were leaving and how we were going to Pune. When I told him I am taking eastern free-way via Crawford market, he, of course, knew the more straightforward way through Prarthana Samaj. But I never knew that it would be his last guidance to me in life!

We will always ask this question to ourselves with moistened eyes, why Mahesh Bhai had to go early! If Mahesh Bhai had been around and if we were discussing someone’s death, Mahesh Bhai the pragmatic would have told me, “Pramod, टाईम आता है तो जाना पडता है. (if your time has come you have to go)”

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Pratibha, my Rakhi sister!

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Geeta Thakare nee Pratibha died yesterday 6th April 2019, on the first day of Hindu Calendar, after a brief illness. For the first time, I am writing about death in my family. My thoughts are uncoordinated, and many, many events from life are rushing in front of my eyes. She was lucky that she died after a brief illness and did not need any long-term support. She died on the Gudhi Padwa day which is a special day for Hindus, and she was born on the Laxmi Pujan day 67 years back. What more does a human want?

Jaya and I met Pratibha and her family way back in 1976 when we moved to Model Colony in Pune, where they also had a home in the same building. For the first couple of years, she would be mostly busy in the birth of her children. She had good support in Mumbai; hence her husband Deepak mostly lived alone during that phase. Once she came to Pune, we started occasionally meeting, saying hello. When we became, a family is difficult to tell. But when Jaya and I were sharing our grief with misty eyes, yesterday as we came to know about her death, we realised that Pratibha was always family. 

We came to know a fascinating anecdote from the time of her birth. In those times, the birth of a girl child was not much welcome (I am not sure how much it has changed even today); her birth was a great event for celebration, as she was the first girl child to be born in her family after a gap of one generation. She was the lucky one, the charming one.  

Unfortunately, we don’t have any memories of childhood as we met much later. But from day one we knew that she was people’s person. It was fun to see her charming the people she met; she would become close to people in real quick time. Children from both our families grew together, and she became a sister to both Jaya and me. She grew up in a family of strong personalities, her father and brother who were both doctors. Her mother was bedridden for a long time; this must have made Pratibha a responsible and caring person while she grew up in Thane near Mumbai.  

Life is full of coincidences. Her husband died more than a decade back; he had a heart event while travelling to Mumbai and a fortnight later he died. Pratibha also had a heart event while going to Mumbai last Monday. She may have had an inkling about the seriousness of her health condition. At home in Mumbai, she rested that day without putting a double lock on! She must have thought just in case! Why did she have a heart attack without signs of acute pain? She did not have diabetes, but when I checked with some doctor friends, they said that such events are common.  

When one writes about a professional person, usually many incidents about decision making, management style etc. are shared. But Pratibha was a fulltime housewife, and to me, house wife’s job or a role is the most complex one in this world. Housewife has to handle many things which include strict budgets, tantrums (everyone except the housewife has a birthright to throw tantrums), managing social occasions and contacts. Illnesses in the family are usually are expected to be handled by the lady of the house. I have seen Pratibha doing all these things with great aplomb and a smiling face, always! Her health and illnesses had always been a second priority as usually happens in our families. The mother is never supposed to be ill. Once in a while she came and chatted with Jaya to take some suggestions; it was more of R & R.  Next day she was always seen with a smiling face.  The chat was only done to recharge her batteries.  

Was she fond of chatting with others?  I used to always tease her about information she had about our neighbours. Someone’s child is not doing well in studies, and someones husband is not happy about his job. I jokingly called her All India Radio, head of news division! She would accept such teasing sportingly; once she had taken a one week course of Vipaschana! Vipaschana course has very tough rules which control the food one can eat, sleeping and wake up times and the most important was that people were not supposed to talk to each other. They had only to listen to the discourse given by the Guru. I asked her about the course and how it helped her. But knowing her love for chatting, I was pretty confident that she must have broken the rule of “No Speaking”! I asked her about the details of her roommate. The roommate was a doctor from Pune. I asked her for more details about the doctor’s specialisation and where she stayed and so on. Pratibha never realised that I was pulling her legs. After Pratibha finished sharing the details, I asked her, “Pratibha, when you were not supposed to talk to each other, how do you know so much about the doctor?” She understood the ruse and smiled at me and said, “Now I know why you were asking me so many details about the doctor?” But she would accept all such things very sportingly and with a smiling face.  

She was very fond of cooking and would love to feed others with her tasty CKP food. She was very proud of CKP cuisine. Whenever there was a discussion about CKP food, she would always say “we don’t cook it this way” or some such statement. When she said we, it was understood that it meant the CKP way! We are brahmins, and in the local language, Brahmins are called Bhat. I always teased her that we Bhats were the best! She sportingly accepted my teasing when her daughter, Mukta, got married to a Bhat!  

She was a proud mother of her son, Ashwin, when he joined NDA. She was even more satisfied when he became a pilot. But she had that a little anxiety that the mother’s face about their Air Force pilot’s sons. Recently, she had proudly invited us the attend the show of Suryakiran squadron in which Ashwin flew during NDA passing out parade.  

She went through a significant health issue more than a decade back. Jaya and I could put in our two cents to support her. But once the treatment started, she showed her discipline by rigorously following the treatment to overcome the health issues. She maintained the same regimen until her last day. But in last year she had a fall and fractured her arm. That put her in great misery, needed support to even maintain her hair. But she continued to handle life with a smiling face though in pain.  

Her mission for life was to help anyone who needed support. In between her stay with her son, she would come for a few days to be in Pune. She would stay at her home, then for a few days, she would stay with different friends. She took a great liking for her grandchildren and helped them grow into lovely kids. She would help them with their studies too. A few weeks back she came and stayed with us, she was all the time telling us about the grandchildren and their anecdotes. The pleasure of being with the grandchildren always reflected on her face. When we asked her what difficulty did she face because of painful hand? She said, “I don’t feel the pain when I am helping the kids.”

I was wearing two rakhis which she had tied to me, one was the recent one, and the other was from the previous year. She asked me, “why have you have not removed the old one?” I said, “It reminds me of my responsibilities; I keep them lest I forget the meaning of Rakhi.” But during her last battle, HE had sent an invite. Power of our love and the bond was not strong enough against HIS command!  

Sis, book a flat for us opposite you, up there. When we come up there, we can’t stay elsewhere! Yes, and we would keep the flat doors open all the time!

 

 

 

One person’s dedication is Adhar (support) to many!

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In our society, we have a different type of people. Some are born to do social work for the community. Some of them get accolades and publicity. But a few dedicated people remain away from the limelight; they keep on giving back to the society without expecting any publicity or praise. From where do such people get their drive to work for society? One thing is sure, they are born unique. One such person was Late Mrs Anuradha Umrani.

She is the founder of the Trust “Adhar Mandal” and the School “Adhar Mook Badhir Vidyalaya”.  She was a 45 years old housewife, had a bit of time on her hand as her children had grown up; that is when the thoughts for doing something for the society started coming in her mind. She did a Diploma in Special Educations (For hearing impaired children). During the course, she realised the importance of the problems associated with hearing-impaired children. Therefore, she decided to devote the rest of her life for the upliftment of these children and founded a school for them. The result of her dedication, focus and drive, started an institution called “Adhar Mook Badhir Vidyalaya” in the year 1985. (School for hearing impaired children). As we have seen many times in this world, GOD also likes such persons. Anuradha tai died young, at the age of 53 on 16th April 1997.

She started the whole project from scratch; the entire concept was hers. As a housewife, she was not trained for teaching the deaf and dumb children. She decided to take formal training and did a diploma in special educations. The adage of “the woman behind a successful man” was true in her case too, in reverse. Her husband, Prof Umrani, has more than 45 years of experience in teaching various engineering colleges in around Pune. He steadfastly remained behind her and continuously supported Anuradha tai’s dream while still working as a Professor in colleges. He taught the courses in Electronics & Telecommunications! Jaya and I were his students while we were doing engineering in COEP. He had told us about the school for some time, but finally, I could find time from my not so busy schedule, a couple of days back. I was more than impressed.

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Umarani family is a family like ours, with a middle-class background and no political contacts. For Anuradha tai, the starting point was getting the land on lease from the Pune Municipal Corporation. With no political experience and contacts, she somehow managed to get a plot through sheer perseverance. After she got the plot, getting funds for the project had been the trickiest of the part. But somehow people started supporting her project. Umrani sir told me during the discussion that though they now get government grants, delays in getting money creates severe cash flow issues even today.

I went to see the school. Currently, there are around 120 students. Out of these 40 are residential students. The building is neat, spick and span and well looked after. The building area is 8000 square feet. They have a water filtration system for the full school. Boarding students are both girls and boys; they get good sumptuous meals. I visited the school on Holi. You guessed it right. I tasted piping hot Pooran Poli and Amti! All the students had hearing aids. Teachers had modern teaching aids — many of the classrooms have E-learning facility. Retaining teachers is not an easy task; these teachers must be specially trained to teach deaf and dumb students. But some teachers work pro bono and teach because they love teaching; it is their social work.

All students from the school are from financially low-income strata. Up to 4th grade, the school gets government aid. But after that, there is no government aid. The school gives education up to 7th grade. These students are also getting help to appear externally for SSC examination. The Adhar Mandal manages its expenses by collecting donations. Their main problem has been that the families do not send their physically challenged kids to such schools at a young age;  the tendency is not to take too many efforts on these kids and to leave such children to fate. Many children join the school at the age of 7 or 8. Umrani sir felt that these kids lose four years of specialised training they could have got, had they joined at the age of 3 or 4.

For such specialised training organisations generating funding and collecting donations is the main problem. Umrani family has been running the school by giving full-time support and advice which of course is pro bono! For the family, it is taking forward the inspired efforts of Anuradha tai! Umarani sirs son also helps him in the background; he is busy running his own software business. You may have already guessed Umrani sir is now 80 years of age, but his energy is unbelievable.

Through hardships and against all the odds, Anuradha tai’s leadership brought the school to a respectable position in the State of Maharashtra, India. I have yet to discuss with Umrani sir, but I would like to know in detail what inspired Anuradha tai to take up this venture. I know about people who were educated to start some venture, but in the case of Anuradha tai, she took the specialised education at the age of 45 to take up this venture.

I feel that she was a born management expert; otherwise, how can you start such a specialised venture continue to run it for 12-13 years; probably her experience of running and raising the family was her essential experience. Of course, after 1997 Umrani sir has taken over the baton!

I am also going to request Umrani sir to write how Anuradha tai managed to do it from scratch. It will be a case study for many. Even if one or two people get encouraged by this, it will be worth it. Creating such type of ventures by thinking out of the box is very important. I am sure many such hidden gems like Umrani family are among us, in need of being found out.

Let me share some details about the school below. They are available on the net too!

http://aadharschool.org/index.html

The aim of the trust:

The Trust aims to provide educational facilities to the physically disabled children from rural and economically backward families, rehabilitate and bring them in the mainstream of Society with respect.

Friends, I have written this piece as I was inspired to write about Adhar School. Please try and visit the Adhar School one of these days; maybe you will also get motivated to do something.

Shop-floor Anecdotes!

Recently, a comment on one of my blogs mentioned that if I had shared some shop-floor examples in a blog, my blog would have explained my thoughts better. Let me share with you a well-hidden secret. For my first eight years, I have worked in non-ferrous foundries on the shop-floor. In addition to the comment, I met my first boss in the foundry last week at a marriage reception (incidentally the bridegroom was my second boss’s grandson!)  So here I am on the nostalgic trip to the good old days. (I need to  investigate why the old days are always “Good Old Days”) So here we go. 

First, let me share with you an essential but awkward technical stuff (in non-tech language). In both my jobs where I worked, this incident somehow flabbergasted even the technological giants from our customer’s team.

In the first incident, we got an order to supply rods made out of a very special Copper Alloy. We had a tough time developing it. (I am talking of early ’70 s of the last century.) After successfully casting, we used a process called extrusion (imagine hot solid metal coming out like toothpaste) to make the rods. After many trials, we found out that we could not overcome a defect in rods called porosity. The buyer from the customer side was also Metallurgist like me. The final component to be made from the rods was a bush. We decided to make 50 bushes from those defective rods; we handed over the bushes to them. Those were tested and approved. We got the order for bushes instead of rods! (while machining the bush, the defect was machined off)

In my second job, we were supplying an Aluminium casting to the same customer. Their Quality Control manager decided to cut the casting to check for porosity. Certain areas in the casting always had porosity due to faulty design; we used to camouflage the porosity. I was hauled to their big boss. I explained to them the process and proved that it was not possible to eliminate porosity due to design limitations. ( The design was provided by the customer) We kept supplying the casting with porosity, till I continued working for that organisation. 

Now a human story. We were developing an alloy called Cadmium copper. When the heat was ready for tapping, obnoxious fumes started coming out from the melt. In those days masks were not available. Workers refused to pour the charge. We did not blame them. The solution? My friend Jayprakash and I started tapping the metal in ladles for pouring. We put our handkerchiefs as masks. By the end of the shift one worker came forward; in the second shift we kept this worker on overtime, and the show was managed by our other friend Vishwas. From next day onwards, there was no issue. Our leading from the front helped to gain the confidence of the workers.  

Chairman of one of the companies where I worked, was a very sophisticated person. He had his style and before starting a business had worked in large companies. In non-ferrous industry, transactions of selling the scrap and slag were done in cash in those days. I am sure the practice must be still continuing. (Tax saving? Black money?)  One trader was our boss’s favourite. The trader was precisely the opposite of the boss. He could speak only Hindi, his clothing always looked like it needed to be thrown away, they were always gritty, oily and dirty. In the ordinary course, our boss would not have stood within a Kilometre of this person. Once I was having a significant discussion with the boss. Suddenly this trader walks in! (obviously loaded with cash) My boss just said, “Pramod, wait for 10 minutes”. My boss welcomed him saying, “Aao Bhai! Welcome”; he put his hands around the shoulder of that man. The trader was offered tea in the finest cutlery, and the trader slurped it in his usual style, pouring the tea in the saucer! The transaction was done, the so-called “Important” meeting kick-started, again after one hour!  

One event taught me the importance of networking. Phillips had their factory opposite the factory where I worked. Their chief of security was our family friend, much senior to me. He was ten years younger than my father. Once I had gone to his office to meet him and had a cup of tea. Within a month of this social meeting, we had a minor accident in our foundry. A small lid of a tank blew up and hit a worker in his stomach. He collapsed, mainly due to fear. We did not know how to handle the situation. In those days getting an ambulance was a significant process and quite a task. I called our family friend and explained to him the situation. Within five minutes he sent the Phillips bus to carry the worker to the hospital. Within 45 minutes of the accident, we had reached the hospital; luckily it turned out to be a minor accident. Next day, I went and profusely thanked our friend!  

We had commissioned an electric furnace in our factory. As a senior person it was decided that for the first week, I would be present from 7 pm to 7 am. On the third day of the operation, we saw smoke emanating from underneath the furnace. We shut the furnace operation. I went below the furnace platform with a torch. I had told others to remain away from the furnace. It was a minor thing; a tape wound on the copper busbar had caught fire due to molten metal splashing. I turned around to call someone and found that my charge hand was right behind me. He did not follow my instructions of remaining away. When I scolded him, he said, “Sir, I wanted to be around, in case you needed some support! I would never have allowed you to take the risk yourself, alone.” 

In this last episode, I will share how one of my colleagues showed terrific sense alertness and avoided an almost certain fatal accident. In the die casting unit I was working, there was a die weighing one ton; it was in two halves and moved horizontally. Due to heaviness, it was operated hydraulically. In the third shift, a worker was doing routine cleaning of the die. One maintenance person was checking the hydraulic pump which was away from the foundry area. He did not follow the basic safety rule of checking if anyone was working on the dies. He started the pump for testing, and the movable die portion started closing. The person working on the die would have definitely been crushed to death as he was sitting between the halves. My colleague was standing about ten feet away, handling some other situation. He heard the commotion and saw the die was closing. He almost jumped like a football goalie and pushed the lever in the opposite direction. He was hurt a bit because of the dive, but he definitely saved a life.   

One thing I learnt from my shop-floor experience was the camaraderie with all colleagues. We had people who were hardly educated to those who were highly trained but raw like my colleague engineers and me. The experience taught us the importance of keeping the mind open and learning from everybody. Empathy was the most crucial aspect of the foundry. Due to heat, everybody was always a bit irritated, stressed, add to that some personal problems everybody has. It was an atmosphere where sparks would easily fly. But in a couple of years, we learnt to be friendly with workers by sharing tobacco (once in a while) or sharing tea with them.  Plus in the initial phase, we gained a lot of work-related stuff from them. We used to be very open about it and would tell them that they were our gurus.

I could go on and on! But limitations of the blog length restrict me to stop. After these eight years, I moved over to marketing and business development side in my own business. These eight years had taught me many things, including the need to have the depth of knowledge in whatever I did. The inter-personal relationship was another area that helped me to deal with junior most to the topmost people in my later years. When I look back, Metallurgy seems too distant to me. But what reminded of my Metallurgy background? I located my good old degree certificate and a copy of my Master’s Degree thesis! Would I like back those eight years? Oh, definitely! The good old days!

 

 

 

 

Musings Circa 60’s! Eateries in my life!

My friend Suresh wrote something about canteens in COEP, on our WA group;  that took me back to my childhood and college days. My first visit to an eatery that I remember was when I was a child; I had gone with my mother and other family members to a place on Tilak Road, in Pune, called Jeevan! I was on the 7th cloud and I ate a Ghavan! Now I am not really sure if it was a dosa or the ghavan, both very thin roti type of bread, made of completely different batters. Later, I asked my mother a few times if we could go to Jeevan again. But she did not even bother to reply. Eating out in those days was something very rarely done. Then, of course, there was Diwadkar’s batata Wada (Patty) eaten during travel between Bombay and Pune. I used to eagerly wait for Karjat station to arrive. I think they used to give garlic chutney also along with hot wadas! This was the beginning of my journey about eateries, in 50’s.

My schooling was done in Bombay and I used to live in Dhobi Talao behind Metro Cinema. I used to go to school by us. Monsoon was the season I would eagerly await. I would cook a story that due to heavy rains buses were delayed and I had to walk home, a distance of about 25 minutes! Those four annas were used to eat Masala Dosa at a place called Kelkar or Batata Bhaji, yes only bhaji, no puris! This bhaji was the speciality of a place called Kulkarni’s, bang opposite our school at Prarthana Samaj in Girgaum. Both these places have gone away with time.

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One iconic place near our home in Dhobi Talao was Kyani’s. (The photo above) Bun Maska, chai, pastries and Omelette was their speciality. But how much money could one pinch from home? Once I managed to pinch money for an Omelette and a few times for bun Maska/chai, a couple of times for pastries. Ten years back I went there and had a full feed of everything, finally. Kyani is still around. My Mumbai story will not be completed without writing about Milk Bar behind Elphinstone College; custards, puddings and jellies and what have you! The last one in my list was Napoli Bistro opposite Brabourne Stadium. We used to go there during my Telang Memorial hostel stay on C road at Churchgate. We used to get expresso for a princely sum of Rs.1/, which we used to have once in a while. There was a jukebox in the restaurant which made us hang around for some time. One naughty guy called Nitin Khot took a bet with someone and somehow managed to pinch a chair from the restaurant. It was returned the next day!

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That brings me back to Pune of my engineering college days. Good Luck is like Kyani’s of Mumbai and served the similar foodstuff. There used to be a little more money in pockets during this phase which allowed us to eat chicken masala and roti! Wow! Mouth still waters! Bowing to the father time, now they serve Idli Sambhar also. Another joint for us night owls, was Olympia opposite Pune Corporation. We used to be awake with our other studious guys but most of the time was spent on serious discussions of the world at large, with special reference to girls! When we had some time free from these discussions, we would be busy in Rummy or Teen Patti (Flush). These serious activities would make us hungry past midnight and the only option was Olympia, famous for its Baida Masala! Boiled eggs cooked in a lovely curry! A couple months back I ate this dish at Fountain hotel near Vasai but I could not remember where I had eaten this beauty before! Of course, it was Olympia!

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Modern Café was our main Adda! Modern Café kept our gastric juices in control by providing us with piping hot Shira (something similar to porridge) and coffee at 5.30 am after all-night sessions of Teen Patti! In the afternoon the cafe would provide us with Idli, Dosa etc. At night around 10 pm we would go there for a cup of tea, theoretically to keep us awake for studies; oh yea! I also managed a Master’s Degree in Engineering too! Our main sessions in Modern Café were during our annual day functions. Preparations were done for a couple of months! I used to take part in these activities to hang around as Jaya used to play major roles in dramas. I was kept busy doing the backstage activity. Modern café had created a new facility at their backside called Bamboo House! This was a real cosy place where they had a charming manager called Shekhar. He was very talkative, we used to regularly have parties where someone from the group of 15 /20 of us would pay. Shekhar used to keep track of who had not paid for a long time and remind us that person’s name. The advantage of these parties was we could skip food in our common hostel mess! The money saved was money gained, which was fruitfully used on going to movies.

Out COEP hostel mess was very famous for the quality of food. Students and their relatives, friends from different colleges would come here for the Sunday feast. There were messes based on veg/non-veg food. Two of them, A & F were famous for non-vegetarian stuff. C was Maharashtrian, D was Gujarati type, E was Maharashtrian Kolhapur style hot food. Then later was born O club which had a mix of everything. A & F usually had the cosmopolitan crowd and the so-called Bombay crowd. I was in A club for two years. We had a guy called Aziz who used treat us to some lovely Biryanis and chicken Masala. Coke with Ice cream was the famous dessert of those times. I was friendly with all cooks and head waiters from all clubs. So, we could always “borrow” something from other clubs. My 3rd and 4th year were in C club. I was not admitted to this club in the first year because I was wearing a bold striped shirt for the interview. Medhekar and I used to be the first guys every day for breakfast for our morning quota of eggs. Another interesting thing used to be carrom games in the mess hall. There were some guys who used to be experts. But Bhave and I used to be Killers and we would beat the so-called champs. Just at the entrance of the hostel was a canteen run by Seva Sadan! It was really inexpensive and would sell home-made laddoos and Shankar pale! Next to that was table tennis room where would spend a lot of time. Even after marriage, we had opted for packed hostel food during exam time! We got married while we were doing our Masters!

Our major past time used to be watching movies! This would take us to different parts of Pune. Bedekar Misal, Sweet Home Khichadi and burun and tea at George’s in the camp were some of the famous places we would visit in those days before or after a movie! Pastries at NCR, opposite Jangali Maharaj Temple, were a treat. Near mandai we used to go Asara for very hot chicken! For us COEP gang Vaishali was just coming up on the horizon and was the place to see the Fergusson College girls!

Eatery3

I could go on and on! But I must mention two places in camp! First one was Dorabajis where one of our gang, Nayan, Sharad, Ashok and others used to go for breakfast to celebrate birthdays! It was a real ritual. We used to sit in the area on the mezzanine floor. Then there was Latif’s. This has a special significance. Jaya and I used to go there as we were almost sure that no known persons will find us there. For Jaya from Sadashiv Peth to Latif’s was a big cultural jump! Until I told my friends, during my first year of post-graduation, about our marriage,  nobody had any inkling of our courtship. Latif’s was a great place “away from everything” in those days!

Let me find out if Latif’s still exists; its high time Jaya and I went there!

Cancer Survivor!

Cancer Survivor

A cancer survivor is a term used to describe cancer patients who did not die though they had cancer. To me this a very derogatory term. I have undergone cancer treatment five years back. I came out of the illness successfully. Why call such a person a survivor? The patient has experienced a significant treatment, faced it bravely, lived with dignity, how can the patient be called a survivor?

The word “Survivor” has the following definitions which I am trying to understand.

These definitions give a different flavour to the experience of going through cancer treatment. About 50 to 70 years back, C-word was a scary word and anyone who had cancer, it was assumed that the result would be death. Hence the term survivor came in use. Due to early detection, improved treatments, family and friends’ support, these days not everybody detected with cancer, dies within a short duration. In fact % of people recovering the condition has gone up, drastically. Following points have jointly changed cancer scenario so much that I do not like being called cancer survivor. Why not a heart attack survivor? Why not a stroke survivor? Why not a nephritis survivor?

I will share with you the information that I gathered while I was undergoing the treatment.

In recent times there have been significant changes in cancer management due to

  1. Early detection

With awareness, with improved diagnostic tools people do go to their doctors early. It is proven that early detection improves the chances of getting cured like any other disease.

  1. Advanced imaging technologies have created sophisticated diagnostics.

In olden days the only way to look inside the body was an x-ray or by surgery. With CAT scans, MRI’s doctors can really “see” inside and can even understand the different types, by looking at images.

  1. Improvements in chemotherapy and its side effects

You will be surprised to know that in developed country England, first Oncology department was established as late as in 1970. The word chemotherapy brought out pictures of a patient losing hair on the scalp, patients having terrible side effects like diarrhoea. But so much progress has taken place in this science that these symptoms are not seen in some patients. Instead of intravenous chemotherapy, now chemo tablets are available. The cost of the treatment has also gone down substantially.

  1. The advent of treatments like Immunotherapy which is used against certain types of cancer
  • Stimulating your immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells
  • Giving you immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins
  • This treatment is still costly but very useful in a specific type of cancers.
  • Sometimes this is given in place of chemotherapy
  • I was treated with Immunotherapy instead of Chemotherapy and had reasonably fewer side effects with no hair loss at all and minor weight loss.
  1. Progress in surgical techniques which allows lesser and lesser removal of tissues.

In olden days, surgeries used to be drastic and a lot of body tissues were cut away. When I was in school, one of my father’s friend had cancer in the facial area. His left side including the left nostril was removed! In my case, luckily, the only surgery that was needed was for a biopsy!

Now with improving surgical techniques where surgeons use probes, many times surgery is not drastic.

  1. Radiation treatment
  • There have been tremendous changes in radiation therapy. It appears that Radiation therapy will be the cancer treatment of the 21st century. Two significant new methods have been proven and are used extensively
  • Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) is the use of imaging during radiation therapy to improve the precision and accuracy of treatment delivery. IGRT is used to treat tumours in areas of the body that move, such as the lungs.
  • Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) uses linear accelerators to safely and painlessly deliver precise radiation doses to a tumour while minimising the exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.
  • The radiation oncologist will speak with you to determine whether IMRT is the most appropriate treatment for you. If so, your doctor will perform a physical exam and take a CT scan to conduct a treatment simulation session. Other imaging procedures may be used to help determine the exact shape and location of your tumour, and a device may be created to help you maintain the same position during each treatment. Your doctor will give you specific instructions based on the type of exam being performed. I was treated with IGRT.
  1. Progress in awareness
  • Perhaps the most significant change of the past 60 years has been in our attitudes. It’s no longer a disease to be mentioned in hushed tones, and increasing survival rates mean that more and more people are alive to share their story of beating cancer.
  • People no longer must hide a diagnosis of cancer for fear of what others might think, and numerous celebrities have gone public with their personal stories. Fundraising events for cancer charities are commonplace, generating significant money for research, advocacy and support.
  • But, more importantly, we’ve also seen a significant change in public awareness about the things that can cause cancer and the warning signs to look out. Many organisations are working hard to improve early diagnosis of cancer by raising awareness of symptoms amongst public and health professionals.
  • But sadly, one thing has not changed. Some people still believe in alternative medicines. These treatments rarely cure patients in large numbers. These people finally go for treatments discussed above, but many times its too late!
  1. Progress in preventing cancer

The reason why someone gets cancer are many

  • Scientists have slowly understood that it can be caused by some viruses also!
  • Smoking is the number one reason for cancer
  • But some cancers also show hereditary links, out of which obesity is one of the main reasons

Friends, I have tried to explain the progress in the management of cancer. Deaths due to cancer are decreasing year by year, but the number of cases is increasing. The reason is our life expectancy has gone up, and the possibility of cancer increases with age. Another cause is smoking control; smoking is controlled world over in public areas. Smoking reduction is another reason for the decrease.

I am sure now you have understood why I am unhappy with the term cancer survivor. Now it is no more a dreaded C word. Any person undergoing a significant health issue is nervous, tense and uneasy till the cure is achieved. Some achieve it; others don’t! Heart attack deaths are even more in numbers than cancer deaths, but people somehow accept heart attack event readily. One good thing is now people openly talk about cancer! Public figures like Manisha Koirala, Sonali Bendre, Cyclist Armstrong are some names. On a personal level, I was moving around for three months with a feeding tube inserted in my nose. A friend asked me why I did not cover my face with a scarf to hide the tube when I came out in public? I asked him, “Why should I do it? I am undergoing treatment, and the tube is my major support device. There is nothing to be ashamed of to hide it!” Help cancer patients to remain more dignified by treating their disease like any other significant disease by NOT using the word Cancer Survivor!

Brave Art!

Sometime back I read an article, in two parts, by Manasi Sagar of Nasik. She is a trained painter and took a passion for painting nudes. We have generally read about nudes being painted by male painters, with females as models. Society treats nudity from a different angle. The human body, especially the female body, is an artwork which only He could create. The way Manasi had explained the path she took and how she managed to follow her passion is something to be read to be believed. From the articles she had written, I felt that she came from a normal Maharashtrian middle-class family. Such families have a a ethos of bringing up children in which girl child is always told to take care of her modesty. It probably starts at the age of around five and the child would always listen to statements from her mother, “Don’t do this, don’t do that! Sit “properly”! Be careful when men are around and so on!” There are historical reasons for this, some justified but when a Manasi blooms like a Lotus amidst such orthodoxy, it’s a pleasant surprise! To her family, it must have been a shock, at least in the beginning!

I had discussed the article by Manasi, with my friend Sudhakar, from Nasik. Sudhakar is a painter by heart but a builder by profession. Yesterday he met Manasi. I had told Sudhakar to tell Manasi, when he meets her, that I am honoured to know about such a brave artist. Incidentally, I came across a poem by Kedarnath Singhji, when I received a message from Sudhakar today, that he met Manasi! Various thoughts came to my mind, which I am sharing with you.

Why is female nudity so beautiful? What pleasures can you get by looking at such paintings? Kedarnath Singhji poem बारिश में स्त्री in Hindi, A Woman in the Rains, is par excellence. I know that I will never be able to come close to the way he has written the poem, the lyrics, the expressions and the refinement. Nowhere in the poem, we feel that he is talking of something vulgar! (Yes, in our society nudity is talked about in hushed tones) It’s sheer poetry, pun intended!

The poet says that he saw a woman who was getting drenched in the rains! It was as if a new book was being opened where the existing written words were getting washed away and were lost in the mist! Raindrops were dripping on her breasts, her shoulders and her chin! It felt as if a new script was getting created; a poem was being written! It was as if her body was giving birth to a new Alphabet! It was as if the body was creating its ink and printing the words, rat, tat, tat. The whole body was slowly getting converted into an Epic! The poet felt that the frog in him forgot to utter its famous “ribit ribit” when it enjoys the rains! The frog was dumbstruck looking at this smooth transition into work of art!

What a way to look at the beauty created by nature, by Him! Concept of vulgarity, exposure, are recent phenomena, in the history of the human race. I always feel that the threshold for certain good and bad things started when the concept of “ownership” started in human history. Till this phase in history, humans lived in flocks like other species. Like in other species, males and females were created by nature for procreation, to take the race forward. The concept of nudity hardly existed as everybody was nude! With the concept of ownership, the ownership of females started and with that started the first known modern dress, fig leaf, from Adam and Eve’s times!

Manasi went against this trend in her paintings. She wanted to paint nudes but who would be the model? It is not so common in India to be a nude female model, and in a city like Nasik, it was almost impossible. Solution? Simple. She decided that she will be her model. She started sitting in front of a mirror at home, late in the night, when everybody went to sleep. The concept itself was taboo! She would have a tough time “hiding” these paintings during the creation phase. What if my parents see? How will I explain? She somehow managed to complete a few paintings and entered an art competition! When she won the coveted prize, she got a communication from the organisers. She was thrilled about it; at the same time, she was worried about her parent’s reactions. Ultimately art won over orthodoxy! She could come out in the open! She still had some problems initially, even after this event, as she could not get models! But she convinced some women, and hopefully, now she will also be able to paint nudes along with her other paintings!

What is it that Manasi’s of the world have in them? Do they eat differently? Where do they get the strength from? Where does the passion come from? When you are doing something unconventional, when your path is not so well-trodden, things can be tough. In olden days, such people were castrated by society; some were even killed. When people are ahead of times, they face various difficulties. We know what happened to Aristotle for talking against the flat earth concept. Manasi has done something similar in the field of art! Will she succeed commercially? Will she become an international name? Will she be known as one of the better artists? Only time can tell. Kudos to you Manasi! Way to go!