Memory Trigger 12. The Weighing Machine.

There was an all too brief period of great romance in my life in the early sixties of the last century, when I was in Madras and my great passion was in Hyderabad. She used to transit through Madras to her home by train and her great pastime on the platforms was to get a few of predictions from these weighing scales located on both railway station platforms just to amuse people like her. Alas for this Orpheus, Eurydice decided to go her way and left me to go my way for reasons that will be written about when another appropriate trigger comes along.

I don’t think that they are around anymore in railway stations. When I was a travelling salesman, just about all major railway stations had them and while one was not fastidious about one’s weight those days, one was most interested in the fortune that the print-out with the weight carried. Some really creative fortunes used to be on those cards and whenever one could afford to take a few repeats one did for the fun of it. You would get messages like these: “You will be happy and peaceful,” “You will meet a handsome stranger,” “Eat well and thrive” etc.

I was reminded of these machines, my old passion and my own travelling salesman days, when I read this fascinating story in the Indian Quarterly Magazine.

Do spend some time reading this remarkable story for the coincidences that the writer encountered and the history that unfolded.

Pen Pals.

No, I did not have to use a pencil to correspond with my pen pal. I had only one ever and he came about because of the United States Information Service’s library in Madras in the 1950s. My cousin was a librarian there and she had made me and my siblings members. We used to borrow books from there. One day, she asked me if I would like to be a pen pal to an American of my age, which at that time was 13 and I said sure and so I became friends with a young lad from the USA named Johny Horrigan Jr. We exchanged a few letters, and both of us got bored of it and so the pen pal activity tapered off to an unceremonious end.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and I have made a great many online/blogger pals who I suppose are the modern equivalent of pen pals. We use computers and the internet instead of paper, pen and the postal services. The process is much faster too.

Like all pen pals do, I too hope that I will get to meet some of my online pals as they assure me they do too. Without personally meeting however, I have been able to establish many good long distance friendships thanks to the internet and blogging and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Shackman has suggested the topic for this week’s LBC Friday post. You can see what the other writers of the LBC have to say in their respective blogs.  Maria, Pravin and Shackman.

The Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras.

3 mosquitoes

We shall now come to the next furthest object in the photo.  The cottage with the bamboo screen on the front and the bicycle, to the right of the photograph.

This was the home of my father’s elder brother and his wife, my uncle and aunt. My uncle was then, the Garden Superintendent of The Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras.  My aunt was then teaching at the Besant High School.  She subsequently became quite a leading light of the TS and was much in demand as a speaker in their international centers.

TS,Ford V8

In the photograph above, the lady in the left was my aunt and the other lady was my mother. The mosquitoes in the front are my younger brother Arvind on the left and me on the right.  The Ford is now parked just in front of the cottage that I mentioned in the first paragraph.


Everyone in the TS used bicycles to move about and my uncle and aunt were no exception.  Both used bicycles meant for ladies like this one on the left. My uncle too used this because he always wore dhoties and it was more convenient.  You will understand it better with this picture of a man in a dhoti.  Since it is not a photograph of my uncle, I have cut off the face!dhoti

Which brings me to my own connection with the TS and Besant School. About a couple of years after these photographs were taken, when I was 8 years old, my parents shifted to Bombay to attend to a health problem with a family member. There were no facilities to attend to that in Madras then. I was left with my uncle and aunt to see if the three of us were compatible as a group with the long term idea of my uncle adopting me. They were childless and did not plan to have any of their own. I stayed with them for a year and went to the Besant High School, and I too rode a bicycle to school and all over the TS. It was a very happy time for me in the sylvan location with many banian trees that allowed me and my two friends from neighbouring houses to play Tarzan to our hearts’ content. I had a remarkable class teacher who taught me mathematics with who I kept in touch till she died in the late nineties. My mother on her return to Madras after about a year had had enough of being without her firstborn and said nothing doing to the adoption idea and so I went back to my parents and siblings and changed schools to one closer to our then home in Madras. I remained attached to and in touch with my uncle and aunt and also to a maid servant that they had, till their last.

More soliloquy in the next post.



It was the year 1964 that I came across this extract from a poem by Robert Frost.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

This was a poem that Jawaharlal Nehru apparently kept by his bedside to motivate himself. This was published as part of the various obituaries that came up because on Wednesday the 27th of May 1964 he died. I will never forget the date nor the day because on that day and the two days following I got stuck in Pondichery without being able to get out and return to my base Madras and in the process lost a great deal of money on some futures on which I had a position. With JN’s death the prices fell and I was unable to get out with minimum losses. I gave up trading on futures on that day and how can one forget such an eventful day?

So, sleep, Robert Frost, Jawaharlal Nehru, Futures Trading, and being stuck in Pondichery all combined together, makes for a potent combination for memory recall for me.

And as it often happens and to use a word that annoys some of my readers, synchronicity strikes again after all these decades.

This topic was suggested by me to the LBC some time last year when I was going through some sleepless nights due to an ailment which resolved itself after bugging me for a couple of weeks. As I write this, I am again having some problems with sleep due to not being able to sleep on my right side, which is my preferred position, due to a torn shoulder ligament. I will be going to the Orthopedist on Monday when a call on whether to go in for a MRI scan will be taken to decide further course of treatment. For the moment I am under anit inflammatory medication which shows some improvement. But sleep is still fitful and unsatisfactory because, normally I do not have any problems with my sleep. I look forward to getting back to normal so that I can sleep like that again.

And I hope that I will travel many miles before I sleep the final sleep.

This topic was suggested by me for the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where currently eight of us write on the same topic every Friday.  I hope that you enjoyed my contribution to that effort.  The seven other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order,  AshokgaelikaaLin, Maxi, PadmumShackman and The Old Fossil. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, or not at all this week, do give some allowance for that too! Even I am late posting this week due to completely unavoidable circumstances. My apologies.

Story 4. Panneer Selvam.

Some stories are true that never happened. -Elie Wiesel

Those are aspergils. The Indian versions are these.

The Indian version is called Panneer Selvam.  Panneer, not to be confused with Paneer which is cottage cheese, refers to rose water in Tamil.  Selvam means container. They are made of silver as well as brass.

On special occasions, like weddings, guests are welcomed by sprinkling rose water using these containers.  Panneer Selvam  is also used in local churches to sprinkle holy water during asperges. The name is given to men from both the Hindu and Tamil Christian communities to indicate that the individual is blessed and pleasant.

I chose the name Panneer Selvam to introduce my readers to the Indian version of the aspergil and the non liturgical use that it is put to.

This story is absolutely true but the names and cities/towns have been camouflaged to protect the hero’s privacy.  I have the hero’s permission to publish this story.

I do however have friends called Panneer Selvam.  All of them are grand characters and at least one of them will write to me and complain that he did not get three opportunities like the hero of this tale did.  Selvam, if you like, I shall write your story one of these days and camouflage your name and town.

My friend Panner Selvam is from the Tamil Catholic Christian community but a third generation resident of Madhya Pradesh.  His grand father, one Ebenezer went to Jabalpur to work in the government of the then Central Provinces government and put down roots there.  Like other Tamil speaking people, he and his family and descendents, kept in touch with Tamil Nadu and spoke Tamil at home.  I first met Selvam  as I shall call him henceforth, in 1970.  I had gone to meet his father Dharma Ebenezer, who was working in the Electricity Board’s Regional Office in Jabalpur.  I had been given his reference by a mutual friend in Bombay where I was posted then.  Dharma and I became good friends as I used to visit Jabalpur often as I had two major customers there.  On a few occasions, Dharma had stayed with us in Bombay and Bangalore.

Dharma and his gracious wife Ruby alas are no more, but Selvam has kept in touch with me from the days when he had just passed out of school when I first met him.  He was a strapping young lad, very handsome and his parents adored their only child. This is his story.

Ruby was a talented singer of Carnatic music and an alumnus of the Kalakshetra in Madras.  She had passed on her genes to Selvam who was, even during his school days, an accomplished Veena player.

Selvam wanted to get into a medical college but could not succeed and was heart broken.  A well wisher however advised him to collect himself and try to get into the Veterinary College and he succeeded in getting admission there.  If not a doctor for humans, he decided to become a doctor for animals and birds.

During the third year of his studies, an American Professor visited his college on a Ford Foundation program, and took to Selvam and made him his protege.  When Selvam passed out successfully, the Professor arranged for him to go to the USA for further studies.

Fast forward to the USA where our young Selvam flourished and was popular in the music lover circles where the good Professor’s daughter Mary, a flautist, had proudly involved him.  To cut a long story short, Selvam and Mary fell in love with each other and got married in the USA.

Selvam started to teach in the USA and the young couple led an idyllic life in a university atmosphere.  The marriage lasted for all of two years and broke down irreparably for reasons that are not important for this narration.  Selvam got over the debacle and stayed on in the USA to pursue his career in academics.

On one of his occasional visits to Jabalpur, he met a distant cousin Sarah from Madras also visiting Jabaplpur and the two exchanged addresses and began a long distance pen pal relationship.  It eventually blossomed into wanting to upgrade and Selvam came to India and got married to Sarah in Madras.  After completing all other formalities, Sarah moved to the USA and that marriage lasted for a little over three years.  From Selvam I gathered subsequently that Sarah simply used him as a conduit to emigrate to the USA and discarded him once she established herself there.

Selvam took to religion in a big way and had serious plans of becoming a priest and was in discussion with some church dignitaries when Dharma suddenly died in Jabalpur.  Ruby was devastated but moved to the USA to be with Selvam but could not tolerate the extreme weather conditions there.

Our hero decided to move back to India and quit his job in the USA to see if he can go into private practice in India and settle down here.  They did this in due course and the story of his struggles in India for the first few years is itself worth a novelette.  Suffice it to say that it was hard but providence came to their rescue when a builder offered to demolish their old home to build a block of flats on the land with one flat for them and a lot of cash on top.

Ruby in the meanwhile was constantly after a very reluctant Selvam to get married again and suggested that he gets married to a local Catholic girl that they both knew.  Mary was a qualified medical practitioner working in a government hospital and both families agreed for the match and they got married.  I attended this marriage and was very glad to see Ruby and Selvam again after so many years.  I teased Selvam that he will be lucky the third time around and he too agreed that he hoped so.

Six months into the marriage, Mary lost her life in an automobile accident just about a hundred meters away from their home.  Selvam went into deep depression and Ruby just could not see him like that and died soon after.

Enough for this post.  I will continue with the concluding part with a post soon.