Sunday, July 15, 2007

Chennai-Flavour of Madras

New Chennai with Madras flavour
S Prabhu

Known across the world as the Hub for 'Carnatic music and Kutcheris' and the heart of 'Filter kaapi', one is today experiencing a new Chennai represented by a youthful culture.

What one has witnessed in the last decade is not just a name change from Madras to Chennai but also a dramatic never before new young ‘Chennai’.

Known across the world as the Hub for ‘Carnatic music and Kutcheris’ and the heart of ‘Filter kaapi’, one is today experiencing a new Chennai represented by a youthful culture with the so-called modern outlook to life.

The BPO companies and the lifestyle coffee pubs seem to be grabbing a lot of the limelight of this ‘New Chennai’. They have brought with them previously unknown aspects of modern living to this city of Kutcheris -western music, hip hop and rock concerts and a new ‘the world can wait’ coffee drinking culture.

No more is it just the ‘Kaapi’ from the ‘Madisara Maami’ (the neighbourhood aunt in the nine yard saree) and the Kutcheris at the Sabhas.

No more is it just the Kutcheri maamis displaying their Kanjeevarams, while eating their favourite pongal at the Sabha canteens. The new Chennai girl in her jeans now sips Frappe, talks rock and shops at a great frequency at the various new multiplexes.

That brings us to the question - are the Kutcheris only for the older generation and not for the youth of today? This is a question that is being constantly raised by the traditionalists of Chennai.

In response, one of the oldest financial services companies in the country, Sundaram Finance, has in the last few years recreated a ‘Thiruvizha’(traditional festival) atmosphere through its annual four-day ‘Mylapore Festival’ (the oldest place in Madras) in the month of January.

This traditional festival of arts, music and dance has attracted well over 50,000 visitors, including from across the world.

As an extension of this festival, the company has initiated a Kutcheri programme that might well roll out one or two of the next big music artistes of this generation and possibly quell any worries about Carnatic music and traditional Kutcheris being lost out to the new age ‘Chennai’.

A first of its kind initiative to promote music among young children, the programme called ‘Sunday Kutcheri in the Park’, launched in February 2006, has kids, under 15 years, performing in an open air environment without mike and speakers, on the first Sunday of every month for an hour from 6.30 am.

This Kutcheri initiative is intended to be a launch pad for young music artistes and to give them the confidence of performing without inhibition.

This is a first of its kind Kutcheri for children in Chennai, that has come in for much appreciation from the music connoisseurs, music gurus and especially the parents whose kids now have the opportunity to perform in front of a big audience at a very young age, well before they are into their teens.

While a few voices can be heard about the death of traditional music and Kutcheris, especially among the youth of Chennai, the reality is that not only are the Kutcheris alive and kicking in this city, but it is also catching the fancy of the younger generation, not just in Chennai but elsewhere too.

Testimony to this came in recently when a 13-year-old Dubai-based child sent in an application from the Gulf to participate in this open air Park Kutcheri.

Madras, sorry Chennai, is changing. Into the future, you will find Chennai emerge as a city with a delightful mix of ‘Kutcheris and concerts’, ‘Kaapi and coffee pubs’ and ‘Thiruvizhas and Rock Shows’. A new Chennai, but retaining the ‘flavour of Madras.’

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nava Tirupathi

These are nine Vishnu temples on either side of Tamaraibarani river off the Tirunelveli-Tiruchendur state highway. Nammazhvar is the only Azhvaar to have sung at the Nava Tirupathi temples.

One can start the Nava Tirupathi trip from SriVaikuntam and end with Azhvaar Tirunagari. From SriVaikuntam, one can take an auto/taxi to go around the other eight temples. This will cost around Rs 350-400 and will take about five hours.

SriVaikuntam is about 30 kms from Tirunelveli on the Tiruchendur road. The story goes that the Lord, disguised as a thief, presented himself before the King to save the (real) thief.

Hence, the Lord here is also known as KallarPiran (Kalla meaning thief). In Vishnu temples, Adisesh, the Serpent God unfurls his hood over Vishnu in a reclining posture. A unique feature of the Lord here is that Adisesh has his hood above the Lord in standing posture, one of its kind in the 108 Divya Desams.

Another feature of the temple is that the sun’s rays falls directly on Lord Vaikuntanathan on two days (April-May and October-November period) every year.

It is believed that this temple was used as a fort in the fight between the legendary freedom fighter Veerapandiya Kattabomman and the British in the 1800s. Buses ply every 10 minutes on this route from Tirunelveli’s new bus stand.

Contact Ramesh Bhattar@ 99940 12629, Srinivasa Bhattar@ 96595 83891 or A K Vaikunta Natha Bhattar @ 98656 28681

Thiruvaraguna Mangai (

Thiruvaraguna Mangai temple is about two kms east of Sri Vaikuntam and is known to many as the Vishnu temple at Natham.

True to his name, Lord Vijayaasanar is seen to be sitting majestically like a victorious king on the throne. It is believed that a visit to this temple will help one attain moksha. This place is said to be a Chandran Kshetram.
Contact Narasimha Bhattar/ Rajagopalan Bhattar @ 04630 256476/ 94864 92279

Thirupulingudi (

One km east of Natham is the Lord KaasinaVenthar temple at Thirupulingkudi. The east-facing Lord is seen in a reclining posture with a lotus stalk from his navel terminating in a flower on Brahma’s image on the wall of the sanctum.The story goes that Vishnu, along with Goddess Sridevi, came down to visit this place. Angered at being ignored for the trip,Goddess Bhoodevi hid herself in the netherworld. After Vishnu pacified her, it is believed that the two goddesses came back together and gave darshan here with the Lord. An interesting feature of the temple is that Vishnu’s feet can be viewed through a small window in the passage.

Contact Gopalakrishnan Bhattar at 04630 256116/93666 18185

Erettai Tirupathi (

Irettai Tirupathi or twin temples that lie within a 100 yards of each other in the middle of a jungle. The first of the two temples has Lord Devapiran in a standing posture facing east.

Sage Suprabhar who performed a yagna at this place relieved a man and a woman from Kubera’s curse, which had turned them into a measuring scale (tulai) and a bow (villi). Hence this place is called Tulai Villi Mangalam.

At the second temple, one finds Lord Aravindalochanar in a seated posture facing east. Legend has it that Lord Vishnu was impressed with Sage Suprabhar’s daily lotus pooja and gave darshan to the sage on the northern banks of Tamaraibarani. Hence, it is believed that one who does special ‘Lotus Flower’ pooja at this temple will be relieved of all sins.
Contact: Seshamani Bhattar@04630 256372/ Balaji Bhattar @ 90472 17914

Maayakoothan temple

The Maayakoothan temple at Thirukulanthai is about 10 kms east of SriVaikuntam. Legend has it that Vishnu went on his Garuda Vaahan to rescue Goddess Lakshmi from an Asura. Hence, one finds Garuda as the Utsav deity here.

In the battle that ensued, Vishnu is said to have performed his victory dance standing on Asura’s body and hence the name ‘MaayaKoothan’.
Contact Venkatesha Bhattar @ 94436 19222 or Muthukrishnan Bhattar@ 99940 98664

ThenThiruperai (

On the South bank of Tamaraibarani, one finds the big Nigaril Mugilvannan temple at ThenThiruperai, where the Lord is seen in a seated posture facing east. Legend has it that Goddess Bhoodevi found two fish-shaped ear rings while performing a penance to relieve herself of Sage Durvasa’s curse and offered it to the Lord.

Another story is that Varuna (the rain god) performed a penance here to be relieved of his curse. As a mark of this episode, it is believed that Varuna, visits this temple, every year, on the full moon day in the month of Panguni (March-April) and worships Vishnu.

Contact Anantha Padmanabha Bhattar @ 04639 273902 /99760 10911/93605 53489/

Thiru Kolur (

Three-km south west of Then Thiruperai is the Vaitha Maa Nidhi temple at Thiru Kolur, where the Lord is in a reclining posture facing east. This is the birth place of MaduraKaviAzhvaar, the ardent devotee of Nammazhvaar. Legend has it that Kubera attained salvation from Goddess Parvati’s curse at this place and it was here that his Nava Nidhis were restored. It is said that a visit to this temple will help one recover lost wealth.

Contact Srinivasa Bhattar at 04639 273806 or 99429 31701

Azhvaar Tirunagari (

The last halt at the Nava Tirupathi temples is the AadiNaathan temple. Lord Nambi of Thirukkurungkudi is believed to have been born here as Nammazhvaar. When born, Nammazhvaar is said to have not opened his eyes or cried.

He resided under a tamarind tree within the temple for 16 years till he met Madurakavi (who was to later become his disciple) who posed some interesting questions about life. So impressed was MaduraKavi (Azhvaar) with Nammazhvaar’s answers, that he said, “I do not need God, Nammazhvaar is enough”.

An important festival at this temple is the Vaikasi Utsav, when the deities from all the Nava Tirupathi temples congregate here to listen to the Paasurams with Nammazhvaar seated on the Hamsa Vaahan.

This is one of the three Divya Desams in TN where Araiyar Sevai, the visual song and dance enactment of the Paasurams is still being performed. Most of the inscriptions here date back to 1000 years.

Contact Appu Sadagopachari 04639 273984/ Thiruvengadam Bhattar @ 04639 272079

At the end of Nava Tirupathi temples, one can come back to Tirunelveli.

From Tirunelveli, one can then visit Vaanamaamalai and Thirukurungkudi and end the Divya Desam trip with Srivilliputhur.

Vaanamaamalai (

Situated about 30 km south of Tirunelveli, off the Nagercoil NH7, is the Lord Vaanamaalai Thothadri Nathar temple.

A speciality of this Divya Desam is that an oil pooja is performed daily for the main deity and this oil is deposited in the 25 feet open well within the temple. The oil is said to have medicinal values and is believed to cure both internal and external illness, including ulcer and skin diseases.

Contact Nambi Srinivasa Bhattar 04365 250119

Thirukurungudi (

Known as the South Badri, Azhagiya Nambi temple at Thirukkurungkudi is about 15 km from Nanguneri. While the Lord lectures Ramanuja at (North) Badri, the Lord here took the role of a disciple and obtained Vaishnava initiation from Ramanuja.

Chola, Pandya and Naayak Kings are said to have played a significant role in the construction of this temple. Culverts show that this temple is at least 700-years-old. Eight kms from here is the Thirumalai Nambi temple, from where Lord Hanuman is said to have taken the leap to Lanka.

The Araiyar Sevai originated from Thirukkurungkudi. Legend has it that the Lord used to listen to Araiyar’s Abhinaya hiding behind a wall.Thirukkurungkudi is said to be the home to the Vaishnava tradition of Kaisika Ekadesi.
Contact: Murali Bhattar@ 94432 05739

Located 90 kms from Tirunelveli, Srivilliputhur is the birthplace of two Azhvaars and a father-daughter at that, Peri-Azhvaar and Andal. The temple dates back to 1st century AD.

Srivilliputhur (

The 196-ft high temple tower is second only to Srirangam’s Rajagopuram.A tradition followed to this day at this temple is that Lord Vadapatrasayi adorns every morning the garland worn the previous evening by Andal.

Andal’s Thiruppavai is one of the most beautifully composed songs among the 4000 Paasurams. It is believed that singing these 30 verses will bring peace and prosperity as well as god’s grace. A big attraction at the temple is the Araiyar Sevai during Margazhi.

Contact Bala Mukunda Araiyar @ 94438 67345/ Srinivasan Mapillai Bhattar @ 94425 47533

At each of these nava tirupathi temples, one can find a display board with temple timings and route map to reach the other Divya Desams in this region.

While at Tirunelveli, do not miss:
Iruttu Kadai Halwa (Dark Shop Halwa) opposite Nellaiappar temple is one of the best halwa you can taste in Tamil Nadu.

The famous Courtallam (Spa of the South) waterfalls, with medicinal powers, is just over an hour’s drive from Tirunelveli.

Sea Shore Lord Subramanya Temple at Tiruchendur

Tirunelveli is famous for late night road side eateries offering hot idlies and dosas.

Hotels to stay in Tirunelveli

Janakiram-0462 2331522
Bharani-0462 2333234
Aryaas-0462 2501651

Car Contact for Nava Tirupathi trip
Ganesh Cabs - 94436 71632
Sundar Cabs @ 9952755336
For auto to Nava Tirupathi temples contact:  9442370844 / 94435 27620

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Krishnapuram Venkatachalapathy Perumal

A fascinating ‘Art and Sculpture’ Temple on route to Nava Tirupathi Divya Desam

This is the 2nd in the series of Non Divya Desam temples (with a rich heritage). While the Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy temple was one of ‘Azhvaar neglect’, this one is a story of ‘devotees’ neglect!!!

Located 13 kms East of Tirunelveli on the Tiruchendur highway, the Krishnapuram Venkatachalapathy temple is one that has not caught much of devotees’ attention despite boasting of one of the best ‘art and sculpture’ that can be seen in a temple in Tamil Nadu.

The temple dates back to 9th Century AD and is said to have been built by Sadasiva Nayakar. Krishna Nayakar is said to have renovated the temple in the 16th Century AD and hence the name ‘Krishna’ puram.

There are 42 sculptures, in all, at the temple, each of which just as stunning as the others.

Lets take a look at 10 of these beautiful pieces of art:

1. Manmatha and Rathi opposite to each other
One finds Rathi and Manmatha right opposite each other. Rathi’s hands are so beautifully depicted that the veins on her left wrist are clearly seen, so much so that one is tempted to actually feel the wrist to confirm if its only a sculpture and not a living person. One look at the beetal chewing Rathi leaves us with the same stunning feeling - For a minute, it seems that Rathi is actually standing there in front of us – alive- and chewing the leaves, such is the depiction. To her right, is a small bowl for her to spit the beetal leaves.

Opposite Rathi stands the 5 ½ feet Manmatha, with a bow in hand and truly handsome – The craftsmanship is of the highest order that it brings the sculpture to life.

2. Bheema, Vyakra Balaka(Shiva’s Devotees) and DharmaRaja
This is a remarkable structure of three men all from one stone. This sculpture depicts a fight between Bheema and Vyakra Balaka, with Dharma Raja presiding in to give the decision in Vyakra’s favour. One finds Dharma Raja all in peace with himself while Bheema is his arrogant self.

3. Lankan Connection- Ramayana???
The depiction of a Queen with a 3 tier crown and dressed up beautifully, that is so typical of Sri Lankar rulers, leaves one to wonder that there may have been some Lankan connect, dating back to Ramayana, with this temple. But no data is available to this effect.

4. Veera Bhadra
Veera Bhadrar sporting a big mush is seen looking down at the devotee almost sc. The veins of the Lord can be seen clearly.

5. Ramba’s Beauty
At the entrance of the temple, on the right, is Ramba – depicted with a long sharp nose and with big ear rings- something quite unique at TN temples. One can well imagine her beauty from the depiction of Ramba at this temple.

6. A Princely Karna
Two distinct pieces of depiction from the Mahabaratha days - A shining Karna with a big bow in hand (now partly broken) and a princely mushtache. This takes us back to the days when Duryodhana crowned Karna the Prince.

7. Arjuna in Penance
Right next to the Princely Karna is a (long long) bearded Arjuna in deep penance. A remarkable sight here is the long nail of Arjuna on his right hand (thumb) showing his many years of penance.

8. An elephant and a Cow in the same image
The other fascinating sculpture here is that of two animals made out of one stone. As one looks from the left, one sees an elephant lifting its tusk. From the other side,though, this same image shows us a cow- truly a terrific piece of art.

9. Queen on King’s Shoulder
A king lifts his queen on his shoulder as he fights off his enemies. The (heavy) weight of his queen stretches the king and one sees the stretched muscles on his right hand as well as the expanding ribs. The breeze lifts one part of the Queen’s saree above her head, almost in a manner of protecting her from the scorching heat.

10. King saving the abducted Prince-A chase on the horse
Another remarkable piece of architecture is that of a king who undertakes a chase on a horse to get back his abducted prince. At the battle field, one finds the angry horse leaping forward with its front legs off the ground and high in the air. The king who is slightly unsighted is seen moving to his right to grab the attention of the abductor- this is an unforgettable visual and a treat to watch.

These pieces of art leaves us rooted to this temple, at the same time wondering why this has failed to draw devotees, despite this being right on the way to the Nava Tirupathi Divya Desam.

The other fact is that this Vishnu temple is now being managed by a Saivite temple. Between 1975 and 1994, this temple was under the administration of the Tirunelveli NellaiAppar temple. For the last dozen years, this temple has been administered by the Tiruchendur temple Management.

The temple is currently being repainted in full by the Tiruchendur Temple management and will shortly wear a completely new look.

May be the TVS family, that has transformed the Nava Tirupathi temple in the last few years, should look at this temple and help preserve its rich art and sculpture.

VV Kumar Spin Legend

A Wicket in his first over in Test Cricket, 5 Wicket haul in his debut Test Innings against a strong Pak batting line up but ended up playing just 2 Tests

Captain Nari Contractor did not want to expose too much of the leggie to the touring Englishmen and wanted to reserve VV Kumar for the Kanpur test. But he never bowled again in Tests!!!

First bowler to take 300 and 400 wickets in Domestic Cricket, ended up with 599 wickets
Viswanathan Vaman Kumar (VV Kumar) turned 72 (August 2007) last week but age is no deterrent to this all time great leggie. He can still turn his arm over and make the youngsters dance to his ‘looping spin’. 30 years after his retirement from first class cricket, VV Kumar can still bowl 15 overs at a stretch at the nets and can still make the ball turn and bounce. His philosophy while playing was to do things close to one's heart. He enjoyed luring the opposition batsmen out of the crease and having them stumped. At the net sessions, Venkat and VV would bowl to all the batsmen without a break, and they just enjoyed it.

During the 1960s and 70s, in a Golden Era for TN cricket, VV Kumar and Venkataraghavan spun many a team out, working in tandem, after Kalli (Kalyanasundaram) had done the early damage VV Kumar says with pride, “Look at the score cards of the 1960s and 70s and you will find very few big scores by the opposition. Such was our bowling strength.” 

Choosing Spin Bowling
An event inside his house got him interested in spin bowling in the late 1940s. “When I was in School (VV studied in PS High School, Mylapore, Madras), I had this habit of collecting different kinds of balls- Golf balls, Hockey balls, Polo balls, Tennis balls and Cork balls. One day, when in the 3rd Form, I threw a golf ball on the wall like an off spin and found that the ball came back with an opposite spin (leg spin). I was quite intrigued with that, but didn’t delve too much into that, except the thought that if the Golf ball could do this much, why not a cricket ball. And that was when I decided to take up leg spin.”

VV Kumar started playing cricket in 1948 at the age of 13 "We were our own inspiration. There were no coaches like you have today. We were guided by the absolute truth that ‘ we can deliver the goods and we can just do it’ Loop and Turn was our foundation.”

In those days, school cricket was very strong and very competitive. There were about 7-8 schools which competed fiercely with each other- Hindu School, RKM, Doveton Corie, PS Higher Secondary.

College Cricket and Ranji Debut
VV played for Vivekananda College(he graduated in Science) and that was a very productive period for him. He recounts with pride the fact that his Vivekananda College principal used to come in his bike to watch him play. “It used to be a great motivator for all of us when our principal came and encouraged us. And the prize for a win was a sumptuous meal at the restaurant.”

“No praise is too high for my School and College teachers-they were so affectionate towards me. I had a lot of encouraging words from my teacher and that made a big difference early on in my career.”

“It was my teachers and professors that were a great source of motivation for me. Many of them went out of their way to encourage me. They even took extra classes to help catch up on ‘missed lessons.’ With such an inspiration, I didn’t have to look too far out to give it my best shot in cricket.”

The varsity games helped him graduate into state cricket. He was studying law when VV Kumar got the Ranji call. He made his Ranji Debut in 1956 and went on to play for the next 20 years, collecting 599 wickets(in all forms of the game) during this period. Those days Ranji matches were over 3 days of 5 ½ hours duration each. This threw in the challenge to take 20 wickets to win a match. That was our big motivation – To bowl out our opposition twice in 3 days.

Propelling him into the next level
The next big moment for VV came within 5 years of his Ranji debut- the call to play for India. VV Kumar was selected to play for the Board President’s XI against Pakistan in Bangalore in January 1961.

Excitement in VV is palpable when he talks about this match “I played under Lala Amarnath against the touring Pakistan team that included Imtiaz Ahmed, Javed Burki and Intikhab Alam. I bowled 50 overs and took 6 for 150. That performance earned me an instant call from the selectors for the Madras (Pongal) test of 1961. It would have been a dream come true had I made my debut in the Pongal test. And also, I may have got 2 back to back tests against the Pakistanis. But as luck would have it, injury kept me out of the Madras Test.”

Test Debut - A brief Test Career
VV Kumar made his test debut in Delhi a month later in February 1961 in the 4th and final test of that series. He had a glorious start to his test career with a wicket with his first ball in Test Cricket one that he still remembers as the ball of his life (described below). He took 5 wickets in his very first innings, and added two more in the 2nd for a debut match haul of 7 wickets. Quite an impressive debut performance he must have thought at that time.

Anti Climatic End to Test Career
What should have been the beginning of a great and long career had an anti climatic end later that year in Bombay. He played his 2nd test against the touring MCC (that included Ken Barrington). He went into the match with an injury (something, he says, everyone was aware of). He bowled close to 30 overs for 70runs without taking a wicket in the first innings.

Mysteriously, VV Kumar did not bowl a single over in the 2nd innings and was destined never to bowl again in Test Cricket (everyone thought he had an injury). A unique co-incidence this…but VV would not bowl in the last innings of both his last Test and Ranji match.

He did not bowl in the 2nd innings
VV Kumar makes a stunning revelation that his captain Nari Contractor came up to him and told him that he did not want to give away too much of the leggie to the spin scared Englishmen and that he wanted to reserve VV Kumar for the Kanpur test. Little did VV know then that he would never again play for India and that he would actually end up not bowling a single over in his last innings on the field for India (that innings lasted almost 60 overs).

It is still quite a mystery that a bowler, who had taken 7 wickets in his previous-debut- test, one who bowled well in the first innings of this test match and who was not bowled in the 2nd innings, on the pretext of the captain wanting him to be a match winner in the next test, was never selected for the country again. Quite a tragic story.

45 years after that incident, VV Kumar rubbishes any references to unfair treatment “Unlike today, where every event is discussed threadbare, in those days, cricket was more or less a subject discussed in close circles. It was a gentleman’s game, you know.”

VV Kumar’s most memorable match – April 1973 Semi Finals against Maharashtra
It was the summer of 1973 and TN was one match away from a possible clash with Bombay. The team traveled to Pune to take on a Maharashtra team which had a strong batting line up, with Chauhan and Gupte at the top and Kanitkar, Borde and Saldhana in the middle order. TN conceded a 60run first innings lead, after being bundled out for 160 in the first innings. And batting a 2nd time, Tamil Nadu was bowled out again for a paltry 180 odd, which left Maharastra only about 120 to win and with a lot of time in hand.

VV Kumar recounts the 3rd (turned out to be the final day) afternoon of that closely fought semi final against Maharashtra and why it was his most memorable match (and of many others in the team as well). “We were all honoured by the presence of Professor Deodhar, the legend of Indian cricket, that day. The two teams were introduced to him during the lunch break.”

Lunch Time on Day 3 !!!
“Quite a stunning incident took place there during those few minutes. The opposition remarked that they had already made the train booking for the finals (against Bombay), meaning it was a cake walk for them into the finals. This charged us up completely. Venkat was furious. He got the team together and everyone promised to give it their best shot (Kalyanasundaram had already dismissed the danger man CPS Chauhan just before lunch). We all wanted to win the match and make them cancel their ‘pre-booked’ tickets for the finals.”

In a way, it was a big moment for several of the players in the team, the possibility of a very first entry into the Ranji finals was beckoning. After lunch, Maharastra was progressing well at 50 for 2 well into the afternoon session, needing just another 70 to win.

An emotional VV Kumar goes on, “That afternoon turned out to be dramatic. Venkat got the key wicket of Chandu (Borde) for a duck. I got 3 wickets in about 10 balls and Kalli got two crucial middle order wickets. Maharashtra collapsed dramatically to 9/70. They still needed 50 to win when the 9th wicket fell. We were all very excited. The last wicket pair put up a fight. Venkat replaced me and gave the ball to Kalli, who kept it tight for 3 overs from one end. And Venkat finally had Salgaonkar LBW with Maharashtra still needing 20 odd runs. We had bundled them out for less than a 100, a win that took us into the finals against Bombay. It was my most memorable match.”

“Not just me, for several of my team mates this was one of the best matches we had ever played in. It gave us entry into our first Ranji Finals.”

Best ball in cricket
Without a doubt, bowling Imtiaz Ahmed first ball in Test Cricket with a googly that had the ball hanging in the air, before dipping and going through his defence.

Best moment in cricket
VV Kumar ranks his 300th wicket in Ranji cricket, in November 1970 at Tellichery against Kerala, thus becoming the first bowler to reach that landmark beating CS Nayudu’s previously held record, as his best moment in cricket "It was an emotional and an unforgettable moment for me. I still remember how my TN colleagues celebrated the dismissal. There was such camaraderie in the team then. We all felt happy for each other’s success."

Best Leg Spinner of all time
Subhash Gupte. He was the best. He had great variety. He had two types of googlies and a concealed action as well.

Best Captain he played under
Lala Amarnath was undoubtedly the best captain in my view. He was a cricketing genius. His knowledge of the game was unmatched. VV also makes special mention of Venkat and ML Jaisimha.

Saddest moment in Cricket
It came towards the end of the 1970s. I had played for over two decades for Madras/ Tamil Nadu and taken well over 400 Ranji wickets. TNCA did not tell me that I was going to be dropped. And there was a big newspaper article that said “VV Kumar dropped”. For an association that was thought of to be very professional, it was a poor way to treat a player who had served you with glory for over 20 years. It could have been a warm send off. It wasn’t to be. It remains my saddest moment in cricket".

An Encounter with Sobers
VV Kumar specially remembers a duel he had with Sobers “I had set an aggressive field. I wanted to get his wicket, he wanted to hit me out of the ground. I did everything right that over. I tossed up a well flighted googly, the ball looped, he drove at it, came straight to me and I dropped the catch. It was an unforgettable moment.”

Creativity and Spin Bowling
VV Kumar is of the view that bowling is all about creating ideas to get a batsman out. Cricket, especially bowling, is not devoid of ideas. It is a game played in the mind. “We were not at all afraid to toss the ball up to the batsmen. That’s how we were brought up. I was always attacking, wanting to take wickets.”

On the fall of Leg Spin in Tamil Nadu
The degeneration of leg spinners started in the early 1990s not at the top but right at the school level. Every thing has been down from there. Containment has become the mantra of the day. Today, spinners don’t understand ‘Loop’. Those days the focus was on ‘turn and bounce’. Today, its all ‘flat and straight’.

When asked if there was a way out to get quality Leg Spinners back into play in TN cricket, VV Kumar says, “I judge a spinner by seeing if he can run through a side on a good batting wicket. That’s when the class can be seen. These days scores of 450-500 have become normal phenomenon and seem to be the order of the day. Dormancy has taken a front seat and aggression the back seat.”

“There’s no solution unless there is a radical change in attitude. The youngsters listen to you in the nets and bowl well. But once in the match, it gets back to ‘bowling flat and containment’. Leg Spinners have to go out there to take wickets. And they need to have the captain’s backing for this. Field setting is important. Defensive, run saving field setting has taken the sting out of spin bowling. I don’t see backward short or leg slip any more for spinners.

He says ML Jaisimha was a good captain of spinners "When I came into bowl, it was just eye contact with the captain and the players. Every one would know where they exactly had to field. It was the same when Venkat bowled. It was what I would call ‘ Repetition in Excellence’."

Parents have to understand the strengths and weakness of their children. There should be ambition but within regulated levels. Today, every parent wants his kid to be a mega star and that is a fallacy says VV Kumar.

His relationship with Venkat

Venkat and I developed a great understanding. We worked well in tandem, we always complemented each other well. When Venkat decided to impart spin, I would focus on straight ones, and when I turned them big, Venkat would keep it straight and tight. We also used to discuss and plant batsmen out- what we call “set them up for a particular kind of dismissal’.

VV Kumar had all the makings of becoming a great international bowler, yet ended up playing just two tests. He shrugs his shoulder and says he has no regrets (except the one event of TNCA giving him an unceremonious exit) at all. He has always looked at the positive side of life. No batsman in 20 years of Ranji cricket was ready to take a chance against him. GRV, Brijesh, Gavaskar, Wadekar, all of the Indian batting greats, struggled against him. He was first bowler to reach 300 and 400 wickets in Ranji cricket (he ended just 1 wicket short of the 600 wicket mark in all forms of cricket), he played professional cricket in the UK. VV can still drop the wrong’ un on the spot as he did time and time again in his prime, decades ago, and his passion and love for the game still remains the same, at 72, that you get the sense that he could still bemuse the batsmen of today and have them dancing to his ‘leg spinning’ tunes.

B. Kalyanasundaram, the former fast bowler from TN (he took 150 wickets for TN and was the first one to take hat trick) considers it an honour and privilege to have played alongside VV for 12 years "VV Kumar, even today at the age of 72, can bowl better than the current day leggies. VV was a magnificent leg spinner and very very special."

Best match : 1972-73 Ranji Semi Final vs Maharashtra in Pune
Best moment : My 300th Ranji wicket- the first bowler to do so
Best ball in cricket : Googly to clean bowl Pak opener Imtiaz Ahmed with his first ball in Test 

Best captain : Lala Amarnath - A genius

Best leg spinner : Subash Gupte
Saddest Moment : The manner of his exit from Ranji cricket

VV Kumar’s favourite all time TamilNadu XI
1. P. K. Belliapa(Wicket Keeper)
2. WV Raman
3. Milkha Singh
4. Kripal Singh
5. CD Gopinath-Captain
6. S. Sharath
7. S. Venkataraghavan
8. M.J. Gopalan
9. Rangachari
10. AG Ram Singh
11. VV Kumar

12th man: Robin Singh

PKB was the most consistent opener and a good keeper. WV Raman had grace. Even in those days, Rangachari was quick…AG Ram Singh was by far the best left arm spinner. Venkataraghavan was the most competent of cricketers. And mind you he was a good bat too lower down the order. Among the recent set of players, I liked Sharath for his consistency over a long period of time.

Famous Train Routes of Tamil Nadu

Back to Good Old days………………..
Will we have a revival of the then 'shortest train*' route to Trivandrum???

A train trip this week to Tenkasi brought one’s memories back to the good old days- the days of the first train in Tamil Nadu that ran from Madras (Egmore) through Tenkasi to Trivandrum.

One of the earliest trains that ran in Tamil Nadu was the Madras Trivandrum Express via Trichy, Madurai, Virudhanagar, the cracker town of Sivakasi, the temple town of Srivilliputhur, business center Rajapalyam, Tenkasi (which houses the famous Courtallam) and Quilon (now Kollam). Those were the days of meter gauge trains.

Those days a couple of coaches used to be attached in Virudhanagar for the benefit of passengers from Tirunelveli and down South.

Vanchi Maniyachi

Later on, Vanchi Maniyachi (the station is famous for the freedom struggle shoot out – Young Vanchinathan shooting British General ‘Ash Durai’ and then immediately killing himself with the bullet shot) became an important junction on the South Coast of Tamil Nadu with people from Tirunelveli and Kanniyakumari boarding the Tuticorin-Chennai Muthu Nagar(Pearl City) Express- one of the other oldest trains in TN- at Vanchi. (Yes, there were no trains then to the Halwa Town or the Cape)

Tenkasi-Quilon loses shine

In the 1960s and 70s, with the introduction of sleeper class and several more trains including the Chennai- Coimbatore- Trivandrum route, this old famous route (Tenkasi-Quilon) became neglected. And the final nail on the coffin was hit with the (almost) full scale broad gauge conversion in Tamil Nadu. This saw the stalling of some of the famous old routes (some temporarily and some rather more long term). Those that failed to come under the spot light of ‘broad gauging’ went out of prominence-Virudhanagar-Quilon was one such.

Hope of 'Back to Old days'

The last couple of years, however, has given ‘train travellers’ some hope to old timers. The Virudanagar-Tenkasi route has been broad gauged, and with it has seen the revival of the Chennai-Tenkasi express – From twice a week, this has currently been increased to 6 days a week now. Shortly, into the future, this train will run up to Shengottai.

However the big question mark lingers – will the oldest express route in TN see its full revival… There is another 100 kms of broad gauging to be done- Shengottai – Quilon.

If that does happen, then hope can turn into reality – the re-introduction of the (then) shortest and oldest train route from Chennai to Trivandrum via the Western Ghats.

Till then, travelers can at least enjoy the direct ‘foot of the water falls’ train journey to Courtallam.

Chennai- Palghat- Quilon- Trivandrum - around 925 kms
Chennai-Virudhanagar-Tenkasi-Quilon-Trivandrum = 850kms

*Now Chennai-Nagercoil-Trivandrum is the shortest route(around 800kms)