Bang-a-lore!

All of Bangalore is flaunting orange, the colour de jour, as the magnificent Gul Mohurs are in full bloom.

Against the glare of the blazing sun and the harsh overhang of ongoing work on the metro, summer still holds beauty in Bangalore. Denizens of other cities flee to the hills or distant lands to escape the heat but, for us, there is no such impetus.

Each day provides a visual treat with a profusion of flowers in delightful colours preening themselves along the dusty dug-up roads. While we mourn the giant trees that are felled to further the cause of development, we take heart that “the poetry of the earth is never dead” and seems to hold out graciously against the machinations of man.

Researching the history of Mysore State for a book, I found that the origin of the wonderful green bequest from our forebears could be traced to Hyder Ali, who seized power from the Wodeyars in 1763. He created the royal pleasure garden in Bangalore that later became Lalbagh and was assiduously nurtured by his son Tipu Sultan. A charming revelation was that the Tiger of Mysore’s emissaries were required to bring seeds from the lands that they passed through.

After Tipu’s death in 1799, the Wodeyars were restored to the throne while the British built up their presence in Bangalore which subsequently became the capital. The British brought their concept of formal gardens here and were delighted that the mix of tropical climate and the coolth of the high plateau was conducive for trees from the Mediterranean (the Cypress), South America (the Cerrado) and Australia (the Hoop and the New Caledonian pines).

Among the botanical experts sent from the Kew Gardens in London was the German Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel whose services were requisitioned by the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar in 1908.

That marked the beginning of a long and lovely courtship of the city with Krumbiegel taking up the task of several gardens across the city. Perhaps his most lasting legacy was the introduction of the flower shows at Lalbagh.

The shows that are now held to coincide with the Independence Day and the Republic Day, allow the best of Bangalore’s horticulturists to display their green fingers. Public and private companies vie with each other as much as housewives who leave no leaf unturned to reign as the queens of green.

To paraphrase one of the state’s most respected bureaucrats, the late TP Issar, “Winter, spring, summer or fall, Bangalore’s blossoms follow a splendid sequence that keep the city pretty”.

While the blue mauve Jacaranda dominate November and January, the early blooming yellow Tabebuias catch up and burst out in fully glory in February- March. Soon the magnificent Rain Tree with its pink puffs that resemble flounces on a little girl’s frock, the Mango and others follow suit.

Its summer now and our skyline is alight with the vibrant hues of the Gul Mohur (May flower). A delicate contrast is the Pink Cassia – entire trees are covered with these spectacular blossoms. With the rains already blowing in, we will soon smell the heady Champak (Indian magnolia) and Mallige (jasmine).

The long low bungalows and the vast expanse of their gardens that characterised the Garden City have yielded to apartment blocks but nobody it seems is immune to the city’s genealogy of green. My friend Sriram Aruvamudan and his partners run ‘My sunny balcony’ that creates cosy green niches in the smallest of spaces and vertical gardens. Space is no constraint as long as you have the will to be green.

Resources:  ‘The Raj Bhavan Karnataka Through the Ages’ is a limited edition book that we published and perhaps, if you asked very nicely, can be obtained from the Raj Bhavan, Bangalore.  http://rajbhavan.kar.nic.in/

TP Issar’s  ‘Blossoms of Bangalore’ is sadly out of print.

A book on Krumbiegel “Whatever he touched, he adorned” is available at 1.shanthiroad@gmail.com

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The devil is always in the details

It pays to pay attention to every detail. This was driven home yet again to me recently when I accompanied our latest client, the Chairman of a prestigious engineering company, to one of their factories.

We rode the elevator to the third floor and of the four of us in it he was the only one to spot an outdated print-out that was stuck near the buttons. His first soft-voiced request to the staff who received us when we got out was to have it removed quickly and without leaving a mark. All the people who rode the elevator daily had become oblivious to it and it took him, on one of his first visits after a surgery, to spot it right away. He knew that probably this one slip-up would catch the eye of an important client and put paid to all their claims of efficiency and attention to detail in precision engineering.

At an event at a luxury store in UB City today, the smart young Sales Head who had flown in from Bombay fretted to me that the frequent power outages in Bangalore were adding to their running costs as the expensive spotlights keep fusing. She has the team here send her photos of the store each day so she can verify that the displays are exactly so and she makes it a point to check that all the bulbs are working too. “They might miss something as they work here everyday, so I check the photos to make sure that nothing is wrong and our brand makes the right impact on the HNI customers”.

Impressed? I sure am. I have learnt at some cost and a little more embarrassment that no matter how small or unimportant it appears, or how boring or repetitive a task it may be, checking that everything is right and error-free is not to be scoffed at.

Being an actor

There are actors who step into a role with consummate ease and make it so much their own that its impossible to envision what the plot would be without them.

I can never think of James Bond without Sean Connery. I recall with perfect clarity the pent-up excitement with which my older sister and I would go along as schoolgirls with our Dad, to watch it in the theatres. We have never since bonded (sic) with any of the others who reprised this role after Connery. Last June when I visited Edinburgh, I was as devastated as a teenage groupie to find that I had missed the great man’s public appearance by just a day. So near…

Last week, when I watched Bangalore based author, Anita Nair’s maiden attempt at writing a play, I was drawn in by one character. I was familiar with the script as the first reading of Nine faces of being while it was a work-in-progress was done in my courtyard in April 2010, as an initiative of ‘Under the Raintree’. Nair, an acquaintance of many years standing, had just completed the first draft of the adaptation of her own novel, Mistress and had requested ART to help her visualize the play.

Obviously then, I had a connect with the play that debuted at Jagriti. When I had learnt that Prakash Belawadi would be playing the role of old Koman, the weathered by time and experience Kathakali dancer, I knew it was a good thing for the play.

I have known Belawadi from the time I was sixteen; his older sister was my senior in college and she was one of my idols. Prakash was not in our college, National College, Basavangudi (where I did my pre-university or plus 2) but he was always hanging around the place. When I was in my first year there, I got to play the part of Shaari in Chandrashekhar Kambhar ‘s bold  drama Jokumaraswamy. Belawadi’s Dad, the legendary Make-up Nani who had kindly agreed to come and do our make-up (no effort in theatre was too trivial for him, I guess), had to cancel at the last minute and Prakash stepped into the breach. That was the first time I actually met him and after fits of teenage giggles, which left him with shaky hands, I recall my older sister taking over to do my make-up.

Years later, I met him again while I was a reporter with Deccan Herald and he was with Indian Express. He, like many of us, was a huge fan of Allen, whom I was lucky enough to marry later. In later years, we were only marginally in touch. In December 2009, when I wanted to launch Allen’s novel Sentinel House, it was Prakash who made it all came through as part of Bengaluru habba at Ranga Shankara. He made a splendid speech that evening, imitating Allen’s mannerisms brilliantly and turned what could have been a maudlin posthumous launch into a mirthful affair, the way Allen would have wanted it.

All of the above personal digressions are to establish that I do have a soft corner for Belawadi.  Notwithstanding this, I can be an impartial critic and I could not fault a single thing about the way he enacted the role.

I was bowled over by the man’s masterly acting. Simple mundu and veshti, kohl-lid eyes (dancer !!) , his diction, the pitch of the dialogue, the expressions which flitted from the self derisory to lightly mocking and later to real concern…you owned the stage, my friend.

prakash belawadi

How short is short enough?

When I don my editor’s cap, I’m constantly tussling with my writers and assistant editors about the use of abbreviations. I maintain that it is perfectly fine to use ‘won’t’, ‘I’m’ and others of their ilk in magazines and websites. But I am not for using them in books, except when they are part of a dialogue and then only because it would sound distinctly odd for a character to say, “I do not” in casual conversation instead of “I don’t”.

Over the last few years, many of my colleagues in journalism and publishing have bemoaned the way interns and trainees seem incapable of using English that is not ‘sms’ language. And I have shaken my head and sighed and we have sipped our g and t’s or our coffees with perfect empathy.

I have had a revelation of sorts recently, and having done some rapid re-ordering of my opinions, I now wonder if we are in fact stumbling blocks in the path of progress.

Most people know that ‘goodbye’, evolved or grew shorter from ‘God be with you’. But did you know that for a fairly long time it was spelt as ‘Godbwye’. Bill Bryson, in his compelling book ‘Made in America’, points out many such examples of the evolution of language.  I hail this as the precursor to the sms text that u n i use.

In India, we routinely follow what is termed as UK English. In my firm, while providing content to a client, one of the key questions is if they want it in UK or US English, the latter obviously for clients based in the US and Indian technology companies that target a global audience.

UK English has hiccupped its way along and it seems to me that we are holding on to the Empire’s coat tails with an iron grip. I think it’s time to relax it – the way to keep a language alive is to let it grow. If Americans could give us perfectly sensible words like ‘frostbite’ to replace ‘chilbains’, ‘bedspread’ instead of ‘counterpane’, there is a strong case to be made for simplifying language. To take this point further, language is all about communicating. So if the effort and the time to do so are minimized, it ought to be welcomed in an age when all of us seem to be gasping for time to breathe.

This does not mean bad grammar or spelling mistakes should be ignored but if a new generation develops a new lingo that will animate the language, I, for one am all for it.

Let’s take baby steps though. So if you are wondering about slipping in such references as ‘btw’ into your next PPT, a word of caution:  I would still use the short lingo only in text messages or informal emails. I would use the language in the hitherto accepted way in formal communications and publications that we put out.

 

Writing with a purpose

If I had hundred rupees for every bad introductory letter / formal mail I have ever read, I could go out for a champagne dinner each week!

Organisations need to write such letters/ mails for several reasons.  It could be to seek an appointment for a meeting, to invite a VVIP for an event, to get publicity for a cause or sponsorship for an event.

The basic objective is to get a foot into the room, and then get 10 minutes to pitch your case. Often though letter writers put the cart before the horse and start making their case before they have even got the attention of the person they seek.

Your introductory formal letter is a reiteration of your brand and you have to get all the nuances just right.

Common mistakes:

  • Making your letter too long.
  • Recapping your or your organisation’s pedigree in exhaustive detail.
  • Exaggerated claims of superiority over every other player in your field.

A letter that will get you a hearing or least merit a reply would have to:

  • Fit into one printed A4 page with enough space on top and bottom for the salutations.
  • Crisply introduce yourself and your organization.
  • Make valid and credible assertions.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Making the most of meetings

If you are a business owner or a manager, check if you are in fact enabling your consultant and/ or agency to do their job.  Absurd as it might sound, clients often derail meetings when they ought to be maximizing time efficiency.

As tempting as it might be to hold forth to a captive audience about unconnected issues, (your associates have no choice, they are bound to sit and listen to your digressions), do not use meetings as ego-boosters. They are a colossal waste of time.

A little small talk is good and conducive to fostering a friendly working relationship.  But make sure work gets top priority, and does not become an also-ran.

Clients who are prepared for a meeting and stick to a clear-cut agenda will use the collective energy and time productively to set objectives and deadlines, chart progress and measure results.

Breathing free

Not many in the media gave adequate coverage to this pubic service message from Breathefree, a Cipla initiative on the eve of Diwali.

I’m reproducing excerpts here as I find the release a true example of a company using the the information platform in a responsible way. There’s no overt touting of medicines, rather it emphasises preventive care. Perhaps they can send it out to all schools and colleges just before next Diwali?.

“Research by the Chest Research Foundation (CRF) – Pune, shows that the burning of fire-crackers increases the level of sulphur dioxide 200-fold above the safety limits prescribed by World Health Organization (WHO). This gaseous air-pollutant along with other noxious gases emitted from the burning of fire-crackers aggravates the risk of triggering an attack in 30 million asthmatics in India and also has the potential to cause new cases of asthma.

Fireworks are one of the provoking factors for childhood bronchial asthma, particularly in children between 6-12years and it has now been established that 26% of people without any prior history of respiratory ailments develop symptoms of coughing, wheezing and breathlessness especially during Diwali.

From the beginning of Diwali till the end of February, there are about 30-40% more cases of asthma reported in the OPD. It only makes sense for all to restrict if not completely avoid firecrackers and show concern for others.”