Abdullah Yusuf Ali: Triumph and Tragedy

The year 2021-22 marks the sesquicentennial of Allama Abdullah Yusuf Ali. His remarkable life, caught between many worlds, was chaotic and turbulent, with its triumphs and tribulations, and a lasting legacy.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali (licensed from National Portrait Gallery, London)

In December 1953, six months after Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, London experienced another severe winter. The same time, previous year, the city had suffered the Great Smog. Wednesday, the 9th, was freezing cold. Movement was difficult. In the evening, in Trafalgar Square, Westminster, the police found an old man in tattered clothes, destitute and disoriented, on the steps of a house. He had a suitcase full of papers, but no money in his pockets. They admitted him to the Westminster Hospital, which discharged him the next day. A London City Council home for the elderly, in nearby Dovehouse Street, Chelsea, took him in. The same day he suffered a heart attack, and was rushed to the St Stephen’s Hospital. He died soon thereafter. Continue reading

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Sidney Wadsworth: A Judge in Madras

Caroline Keen, A Judge in Madras: Sir Sidney Wadsworth and the Indian Civil Service, 1913-47, Harper Collins, 2021. Rs. 699.

Most British (and Indian) officers of the Indian Civil Service diligently maintained copious diaries filled with detailed accounts of their working life in India with the hope of turning them into one or more books after retirement. Only a few of them successfully sustained the habit throughout their service. Fewer still turned them into books. One of those who wrote a manuscript after retirement, but never published it, fearing lack of demand and publisher interest, was Sir Sidney Wadsworth. Born in 1888, Wadsworth joined the ICS in Madras in 1913. Also posted to Madras, from the same batch, was Benegal Rama Rau, later Governor, Reserve Bank of India. Sidney retired in 1947 to the Isle of Man, where his father in law, Sir Robert Clegg ICS, also of Madras, spent his last years. “A Judge in Madras” is based on the draft memoirs of Sir Sidney Wadsworth. Continue reading

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Why this blog

It was Bertrand Russell (or maybe Bernard Shaw in one of his long introductions) who wondered on what an overthrown official would do thereafter. In ancient Greece, he speculated, the deposed official would round up mercenaries and attack his city state. The unseated Chinese civil servant, he added, would retire to the hills and write poetry. A retired Indian bureaucrat, I believe, would write his memoirs or set up an NGO. One who cannot do any of these things might just start blogging. Continue reading

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Everyone’s MKK, our MD uncle: A Centenary Remembrance

MKK Nayar

This is a centenary remembrance of Late MKK Nayar (1920-1987), my father’s boss, who belonged to the first batch of IAS. Though belonging to the Tamil Nadu cadre, his significant contributions include construction of the Bhilai Steel Plant, modernisation of FACT fertilizer plants, and to the world of sports, arts, and culture, in Kerala and beyond. Continue reading

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The Tharoor I Knew

A young Tharoor Parameshwar

When I was in school, in the early 1970s, one occasion that we four brothers looked forward to was an annual visit by Param Uncle, as we used to call him. His official name was Tharoor Parameshwar, editor of Reader’s Digest for over two decades from the mid-1950s. Param Uncle came every year, usually by December/January. Continue reading

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A brief meeting with K.R. Gowri

K.R. Gowri

Speaking of politicians from Kerala, one of the most respected must be KR Gowri, now 101 years old. Also referred to affectionately as Gowri Amma, she could be the oldest living politician in India. There does not seem to be any book on her, as yet. Even if there is, I am yet to come across. There is, however, a Wikipedia page here.

Born in Alappuzha district of Kerala, she was the first female from her community to have studied law. Having joined the Communist Party early, under the influence of an elder brother, she was a member of the legislative assembly of Travancore-Cochin in 1952 and 1954. She went on to become the only lady in the first Communist Ministry in Kerala led by EMS Namboodiripad, from 1957 to 1959 Continue reading

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A train journey with PKV

PKV Election Poster

Today is the 74th Independence Day. As I write this, Malayalam news media is full of discussions on the gold smuggling scandal that has been the rage for the last six weeks. In stark contrast to the jet setting life style and outlook of present day leaders, I was reminded of two incidents from a few decades back. Continue reading

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Dr KNS Nair – My doctor in Delhi

When I left for New Delhi to pursue my postgraduate studies, my father handed me a list of about 12 names with addresses of people who I should call on. It helped that all of them were in South Delhi, one of the factors in my deciding to join JNU, also in South Delhi, and not Delhi School of Economics. Continue reading

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On going vegetarian and beyond

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was pointing to the cruelty that mankind meted out to animals, while writing these lines in the second part of his historical play, Henry VI, based on the life of the 15th century King of England:

Thou never didst them wrong, nor no man wrong;
And as the butcher takes away the calf
And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays,
Bearing it to the bloody slaughter-house,
Even so remorseless have they borne him hence;
And as the dam runs lowing up and down,
Looking the way her harmless young one went,
And can do nought but wail her darling’s loss.

– William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part II
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CFO 001: Rasam or the essence of the spices

This is the first post in a series of brief cooking notes that I started writing for a friend, who was at a loss at the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown. He had lost his mother, his ailing dad was 92, his maid had stopped coming, no food of any kind was available, and he had not clue about cooking.

Reading recipes or watching cooking videos has been a hobby for long, even if I had no intention of making that dish. Continue reading

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