Tuesday, December 29, 2020

T Srinivasachariar Raghava Simham Press

A Book at 94 on his favourite tech gadget - the Desktop Computer
From a remote village to the Chief Priest of a renowned temple in Mylapore
Anchored Vedantha Desikar Srinivasa Perumal Temple's biggest renovation exercise in the 1970s - His Devotional Commitment in the 1950s ensured that annual utsavams were conducted during the dark days at Ahobilam Divya Desam 
At 94, his devotional memory is still razor sharp as he recalls the early life in a remote village without quality educational facilities, the financially challenging times he had to endure when Sanskrit suddenly received a step motherly treatment after independence, the blessings of Veera Raghava Perumal, Thiruvallur Divya Desam(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/06/veera-raghava-perumal.html) and interactions with five Jeers of the Ahobila Mutt. As the Chief Priest of Vedantha Desikar Srinivasa Perumal Koil, he anchored the Samprokshanam in 1975 following the biggest renovation the temple had seen in the previous five decades. Later in the 1990s, he was actively involved in assisting the police help recover the lost jewels including staying late into the night at the Police Station. To many in the next generation, he is a role model on a devotional way of life and the one they look up to for any temple pooja process related challenges. The books he has written and published serve as a guide book to archakas. Here is the story. 

Childhood - Financially Challenging Times 
T Srinivasachariar was born in Azhisoor, a village near the historical Sundara Varadar Perumal temple in Uthira Merur(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2008/12/uthiramerur-sundara-varadar.html). Driven by financial challenges, his father, C Thirumalachariar, a Sanskrit scholar, moved to Kanchipuram where the Parakala Mutt had launched a Vedic and Prabhandham school. He taught Sanskrit in that school and later on in life, he became an aradhakar at the Kanchi Ahobila Mutt. Srinivasachariar discontinued academics after class III and went along with his father to Kanchipuram. There he was initiated into Sanskrit, the Vedas and Divya Prabhandham by his father. 

All alone to Madras - Sanskrit Initiation
Soon after, when he was not yet into his teens, his father packed him off to Madras to the Adi Kesava Chetty school, a Sanskrit Institution run by Narayana Mudali Chetty in North Madras. For four years, staying in a hostel, he embarked on a formal Sanskrit education and cleared the advanced course (Sanskrit equivalent to SSLC). Following this, his interest was to join the Sanskrit College, Mylapore to improve his skills in the language. However, the college at that time focused on Mimamsa, an area that was not of interest to him as he was keen on Nyaya. 

Graduates from Sanskrit College, Madurantakam 
The launch of the Sanskrit College in Madurantakam by the 42nd Jeer of the Ahobila Mutt, Injimedu Azhagiya Singar in 1942 turned out to be a great blessing. He recalls the years at the college "It was a great period of initiation at the College that laid a strong foundation for me and was to serve me well later in life.” 

Unfortunately, soon after he graduated, there was a sudden defocus on Sanskrit following India’s independence and quite unexpectedly those in the Sanskrit field had a tough time finding jobs. By this time, he also had a family to run. As was the tradition in those days, he married young at 17 on the last day of Aani in 1943.  It was a financially challenging phase for Srinivasachariar and he turned his hope towards the Ahobila Mutt. Participation in Kalakshepams earned stipend for youngsters in those days. But once again, his plans went awry. The Jeer was in the process of writing a book and he had put on hold the Kalakshepams till the completion of the book. 

Manager of Water Works and Catering 
Have completed his Sanskrit course and with no job in sight, he returned to Madras to his uncle’s house in Villivakkam (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2010/06/sowmya-damodara-perumal-villivakkam.html) looking to explore some work opportunities in the city. His uncle’s neighbour was a civil engineer and a building contractor who worked under the brand name of Modern Housing Construction. He had just been awarded the contract of the Villivakkam to Kilpauk Water Works. At Rs. 1.50 salary a day, Srinivasachariar was asked to manage the contract work on the ground. On completion of this work, the contractor took a catering engagement at the Stanley Medical College Hospital. Here too, Srinivasachariar was assigned the task of managing the activity, end to end. 
During that phase, he even drove a lorry. A Vasudevan, the personal assistant to the 46th Jeer of the Ahobila Mutt who performed archaka service for a decade at the Vedantha Desikar Srinivasa Perumal temple in Mylapore and later for a short period at the Ahobilam Divya Desam learnt the agamas from Srinivasacharya in the 1990s. He is not surprised at his acharya adapting to different kinds of engagements “In over three decades of my close interactions with him, his character was symbolized by carrying out the assigned task as sincerely and responsibly as possible. He would do everything that was required to complete the job on time.” 

An unexpected assignment by the Jeer 
When the Jeer completed his book, he came to Thiruvallur for Kalakshepam. And Srinivasachariar spent two years under his watchful eyes. Much to his delight, a completely unexpected opportunity came up on its own. The book that was to be printed was proving to be expensive with the printers of the time demanding a rather large sum of Rs. 10000. 
With joblessness rampant in the Vaishnavite community especially for Sanskrit scholars, the Jeer felt that the setting up of their own printing press would serve the twin purpose of printing the Mutt’s books as well as providing job opportunities. When the question arose as to who would manage the press, quite unexpectedly the Jeer pointed at Srinivasachariar and asked if he would take up the responsibility. Srinivasachariar recalls one of the most delightful days of his life “I had no clue of what printing was and no prior experience in the field but to be offered an opportunity from the Head of the Mutt was a God sent gift and I accepted it gleefully. It was to serve as an important source of income that was much needed at that time for my family.”

In 1950, Srinivasachariar spent months training on the processes involved - binding, composing and printing. He considers it a great honour to have had the launch of the Jeer’s Book as his first engagement at the Malolan Printing Press in Thiruvallur.

Raghava Simham Press 
On July 10, 1966, he launched a Printing Press of his own and called it ‘Raghava Simham’ press as the idea of the press was generated in Thiruvallur and blessed by the Ahobila Mutt Jeer. For a large part  over the next few decades, he did marriage invitations and bill books. 

Chief Priest at the Mylapore Temple 
In 1972, when the Vedantha Desikar Srinivasa Perumal temple was short on archakas, they sought his services and he joined at a salary of Rs. 50. Thattu Kaasu was minimal in those days. The printing press ran well enough to pay the salary of the staffers but it was not a big revenue earner. Hence, the opportunity at the temple came in handy at that time to help him financially. 

His daughter, the 62 year old Mala Nandakumar recalls the early years of the Raghava Simham press that he ran out of Saidapet “Those early years in the 1970s is symbolic of the hard work he put in. Every morning, at 5am, he would board the first bus from Saidapet (Number 5B) to Mylapore Tank. From there, he would walk to the Srinivasa Perumal temple. After the morning service, he would return home to carry out the printing work. He would then be back once again boarding 5B for the evening pooja. On Utsavam days, he would work late into the night to ensure that the printing work is completed within the deadline and once again board the bus next morning at 5am. His commitment to Srinivasa Perumal and to the Raghava Simham press have been a great source of motivation to all of us. ”

There were also occasions when he took up printing of Board Examination question papers. As these were confidential, the printing assignment would be taken up late in the night.

The daily trips from Saidapet were proving to be quite strenuous and taking a toll on him. And hence he moved closer to the temple shifting the printing press to Mari Chetty Street near the Mandaveli market. 

"Till the time I was married, he did not give any indication to me on the financial situation at home. Only later, did I come to know of the challenges he had faced during the 1950 and 60s. As I look back now on those early years of my school, he simply did not express his hardships to me at anytime and allowed me to enjoy my teenage years." 

The Biggest Renovation in 50 years 
Soon after he took charge, the temple saw its biggest renovation in over half a century. The previous construction had taken place in the 1920s by The Hindu K Balaji's (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/09/a-blossoming-cricket-career-was-cut.html) grand father. Till the 1970s, the Perumal and Thaayar were close to each other separated only by a wall. It was a completely different scenario till the early 70s at the temple. The location where one now finds the Ramanuja Sannidhi had been the madapalli for several decades. The Azhvaars were seen just behind the Perumal/ Thaayar Sannidhi where one now finds the Chakkarathazhvaar Sannidhi. Ramar Sannidhi was North of the Perumal Sannidhi (Azhvaars sannidhi now). 

It was during that renovation that separate sannidhis were built for Rama, Ramanuja, Chakkarathazhavar with Madapalli being taken out to a different location east of the temple. It was Srinivasachariar who master minded the reconstruction of the temple and anchored the mega samprokshanam of the new look temple in 1975. That remains one of the most cherished accomplishments of his life. 

He has also undertaken Samprokshanam in temples across the country including in Bombay, Delhi, Pune and Hyderabad. He was also the one who anchored the Samprokshanam of the Dasavathara Sanndhi in Srirangam (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2009/12/dasavatharam-temple-in-srirangam.html).

To Ahobilam Divya Desam for 16 years 
In the dark days for Ahobilam around 70 years ago, Srinivasachariar was instrumental in carrying pooja items for 16 long years to this Divya Desam for the annual utsavams, at a time when that Divya Desam was on the lines of the description in Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s Periya Thirumozhi (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2010/10/singavel-kundram-ahobilam.html). It was forest like with no electricity and the rocky terrain was difficult to reach. There were not too many facilities available there. Even to reach Ahobilam would take three days. In those difficult times, it was Srinivasachariar who ensured the celebration of the annual utsavams. In recognition of his selfless efforts for well over a decade from the early 1950s, the 45th head of the Mutt handed him the responsibility for the Samprokshanam in 1998 when Srinivasachariar was past 70. Currently, a restoration process is on at Ahobilam under the leadership of industrialist Venu Srinivasan ( https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/11/ahobilam-temple-restoration.html).

His books – A Ready Reckoner for Archakas
It was during his service as the priest of the Mylapore temple that he began writing books on temple related topics, especially those that would be relevant for the archakas. When the HR & CE planned to start an Agama school, Srirangam Ranganatha Swamy Temple’s Rangaraja Bhattar called him for the meeting and it was he who brought out a comprehensive book on the agama processes in temples. This was directed by the Government to be circulated to all temples in Tamil Nadu. 
While the original version was in Sanskrit, the HR & CE also requested him for a Tamil version (it is another matter that the agama school did not materialize). The agama book has seen multiple reprints and is a handbook used by archakas across temples. He wrote books on core pooja related topics for archakas in temples that served as a ready reckoner. With the common man too, especially in the new gen, having a number of doubts on the processes to be followed at home, Srinivasachariar wrote a book detailing the pooja related formalities for those at home to be followed on occasions such as child birth, death and by overseas persons who are not physically present here.

Prabhandham acharya Natteri Srihari Parthasarthy (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2015/11/srihari-parthasarathy-prabhandham.html), who has been initiating students into the sacred verses of the Saint Poets for the last two decades and ST Sathyanarayanan (a senior member of the Prabhandham team at the Mylapore temple) undertook their Sri Bashyam, Bhagavat Vishayam and Rahasyatraya Saaram under the guidance of Srinivasachariar. Navalpakkam Ranganathan (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2015/02/navalpakkam-ranganathan.html), who is an integral member of the Prabhandham team at the Srinivasa Perumal temple secured his Pancharatra Deekshai from Srinivasachariar.

Ahobila Mutt’s Vasudevan learnt the agamas from Srinivasachariar and dedicates all his achievements in life to his period of learning from the revered acharya which he says continues to this day “I have known him from the time I was a small boy in the 1980s. It was he who taught me all that is required for an archaka to perform his duty well. Throughout my childhood, I watched him perform service at the Srinivasa Perumal temple. He was disciplined and focused on carrying out his service on time. He never went after money. There were many devotees who were pleased with his service and handed money for his kainkaryam. Even if it was personal money given to him (not on the thattu), he would still share it with all the other archakas, such was his gracious nature.”

Vasudevan also feels blessed that his debut Samprokshanam in the outskirts of Madras in the late 1990s was under the leadership of Srinivasachariar "He was disciplined, worked with precision and always had a time sense to complete work within tough deadlines".

Recovery of lost Jewels 
By the mid 1990s, he was close to 70. When the jewels were stolen from the Vedantha Desikar Srinivasa Perumal temple, he was the one who the Police personnel trusted the most. Whenever they required any information, it was Srinivasachariar that they looked up to. Vasudevan credits the recovery of all the jewels within a month to the efforts of Srinivasachariar “There were many occasions when he was called by the police late in the night. Unmindful of his old age, he would go to the police station and assist them in every way. There were nights when the meeting went up to as late as 2am. I was the one he would call at the end of the meeting to pick him up from the police station to take him home.”

Vasudevan remembers his decade long service at the Srinivasa Perumal temple and his association with Srinivasachariar "While he was not part of the Seva Kalam being an archaka, he would listen to the recital and initiate his archaka colleagues with deep insights into the inner meanings of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham. Also he would often ask us if we knew the significance of the Sahasranama archanai we did  and he would put each of the names into context."

He served as the Chief Priest of the temple and retired after almost three decades at a salary of Rs. 1200!!!

Tech Savvy after Sathabhisekam
Just under two decades ago, when technological improvements came into play, he made the move to offset printing. His two grandsons were growing up and were quick to grasp new technologies. He brought his first computer in 2000 and with the help of his grandsons learnt computers when he was close to 80!!! His record maintenance has always been perfect as can be seen from the beautifully chronicled books in his large library at the printing press on 2nd Trust Cross Street in Mandaveli. In the process of writing topical books, he managed to collect rare historical books that now number over 400. Not only does he possess such a rare collection but he has also catalogued every single book in his library for easy reference by anyone. 
Lavish Praise of his student
Three years on the occasion of the felicitation of Prabhandham Acharya Srihari Parthasarathy in March 2017, Srinivasachariar was seen engaged in a healthy debate with his once student. When the then 91 year old, Srinivasachariar referred to Srihari as 'Swami', the latter strongly objected saying that he had undergone Kalakshepam under the great Vidwan and hence it was not appropriate for him to refer to his student as Swami.

However, Srinivasachariar dismissed Srihari off remarking that he had rendered a great service to the Vaishnavite community by creating the next generation of students that will keep the Prabhandham traditions going for the next several decades and that the occasion was appropriate for Srihari to be referred to as ‘Swami’ even though he had once been his student!!!
Referring to the Maaley Manivanna Pasuram, where Andal presents the specific process to be followed (Conch, Drum, Ghosti..), Srinivasachariar praised Srihari for the systematic way in which he had brought up his students since the mid 1990s. If today there is a strong Ghosti to reckon with, in Mylapore, the credit for that goes to Srihari, Srinivasachariar said that day at the Vedantha Desikar Srinivasa Perumal temple. 

His decades of devotional service at the Srinivasa Perumal temple symbolized the way he lived – Total dedication to the cause that he took up, timely service and acting with precision. Even today, well into his 90s, he falls full length near the Dwajasthambam of the temple invoking the blessings of the Lord such is his devotion. He considers being asked to manage the printing press of the Mutt as a devotional gift from his acharya and continues to run Raghava Simham press with personal care, over half a century after its launch. He has initiated over 70 people into agamas and several students are continuing to take Vedantham lessons from him with kalakshepam each day in the morning and evening even during the year of the Pandemic. 

Azhisoor T Srinivasachariar was hailed on Sunday (December 27) by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programme as a role model for the younger generation. Referring to Srinivasachariar’s learning computers and offset printing into his 80s, the Prime Minister said he was a prime example of how it is never too late to learn. 

Srinivasachariar will turn 95 in just over a month. It is an age when not too many are active. But Srinivasachariar is unique and his deeply disciplined devotional life sets him apart. He continues to engage everyday with his disciples on agamas, sukthas and the sacred verses. And of course, he puts his favourite gadget of the last decade or so -  The Desktop Computer - to the benefit of the society!!!! This last week of December 2020, he is seen typing the content of his latest project from the printing press in Mandaveli, Madras. The new book will feature the processes to be followed in temples after a Pandemic of this magnitude decoding its features from the agamas. This latest addition to his glorious writing is expected to be launched over the next fortnight or so. 

Truly a remarkable devotional endeavour at 94.

Kapaleeswar First Street Procession 2020

TN Govt approves Kapali Street Procession on Tuesday evening 
Natarajar Abhisekam at 11pm tonight, Natarajar- Sivakami Sundari Street Procession at 9am Wednesday
The TN Government has provided permission to the HR & CE for a Pancha Moorthy Procession around the four Mada Streets of Mylapore this Tuesday (Dec 29) evening as part of the Aruthra Utsavam Celebrations at the Kapaleeswarar temple. Confirming the news to this writer, Head Priest E Venkatasubramaniam Shivachariar said that this will be the first street procession of Lord Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal in 2020.

Leading up to the Natarajar Abhisekam at 11pm tonight, there is a three day Oonjal Utsavam that is currently being celebrated. There is no confirmation yet on allowing devotees to the Abhisekam tonight. The Deepa Aradhanai of Natarajar will take place at 5am on Wednesday morning. Following the aradhanai, Natarajar will go on a procession to the East Mada Street (near the Chariot). And then after Theerthavari at the sacred tank, Natarajar and Sivakami Sundari will go on a Mada Street procession at around 9am on Wednesday morning, Venkatasubramaniam Shivachariar told this writer.
The Pancha Moorthies have already made their way to the Navarathri Mandapam just after noon today
( Photo above of Lord Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal and below of Singaravelar with his consorts)
Oonjal at 7pm Tuesday
The three day Oonjal Utsavam of Lord Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal began on Sunday evening and will culminate at 7pm on Tuesday evening that will then be followed by the procession of Kapaleeswarar, Karpagambal, Singaravelar, Narthana Ganapathy and Chandikeswarar around the four Mada Streets. This first procession of the Pancha Moorthies in 2020 coming in the last week of the calendar year is is likely to start at around 7.30pm this evening.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Kapaleeswarar Temple Vellala Community

Poonamalee Uyir Thuluva Vellalar Marabinar Sangam has staked claim to a Board seat at the Kapaleeswarar Temple - has approached the Madras High Court to hand back their historical rights
The community had made several contributions to the development and improvement of the temple over the last few centuries and has been actively contributing to Utsavams and Kumbabhisekams at the temple
Over three Centuries ago, when the Kapaleeswarar temple was being built in its current location, the Thuluva Velalar community had a significant role to play in its development. 82 year old AC Kandaswamy, a Civil Engineer, is now the President of the Poonamalee Uyir Thuluva Vellalar Marabinar Sangam that was officially registered in 1946 once the HR & CE took over the temple. He recounts the role of his forefathers in the development and improvement of the temple over the last few centuries “Mylai Naattu Muthaiappa Mudhaliar donated lands for the temple 380 years ago. Several members of the community made large donations in the form of jewels and house properties for the maintenance of the temple.” 

Role in Kumbabhisekams
The community has also been playing an integral role in the Kumbabhisekam of the temple including the consecration of the Koothaadum Vinayakar Sannidhi at the Eastern Entrance of the temple.

Golden Chariot
In 1999 when the Golden Chariot was completed and inaugurated, it was this association that undertook the inaugural run of the Chariot. Every year since then, the association has been organizing a Golden Chariot run on the inauguration date of the Sangam (May 9). 

A Temple property in North Madras
The community had donated several properties to the temple few centuries ago. It was with the rental income from these properties that Utsavams were organised. Not just here in Mylapore, they had also donated a house on Thirupalli Street in Georgetown in North Madras for the conduct of the Theppotsavam and Panguni Utsavam at the Kapaleeswarar temple. 
Organising Utsavams
He points out that their contribution has been significant in the centuries gone by. Historically, the Community has been organizing the first day of the Theppotsavam in Thai every year and also the Yaanai Vahanam procession on the sixth day of the Panguni Brahmotsavam. In addition, they have also been organizing the Vayilar Nayanar Utsavam on Margazhi Revathi. Also, their forefathers were once the ‘Kanakkupillai’ at the temple. 
He says that till the middle of the 19th century, there were two trustees and one overseer (supervisor) on the board of the temple. In 1862, the Board Revenue took charge of the temple and then in 1946, the HR & CE took over the temple. Even after the HR & CE took over, three members of the Thulu Vellala community were appointed as trustees and this went on till 1976. And then all of a sudden, no members were appointed from the community. 

Kandaswamy says that the community then approached the court with concrete evidence of their contribution to the temple and their role on the board. Based on the documents presented to them the High Court directed in 1980 to appoint at least one representative from the Poonamalee Uyir Thuluva Vellalar Marabinar Sangam to the Board of Trustees of the temple. For three decades, there continued to be this representative on the Board. Earlier in the decade, the trustee was done away with and ‘Thakkar’ was appointed by the HR & CE. 

Temple activist TR Ramesh (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/02/tr-ramesh-temple-activist.html?m=1) has filed a case for about 60 temples including Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple. He has asked for the temple to be handed over to the Trustees/their descendants from whose hands the temple was taken over. The High Court had issued notice to the government and the Commissioner.
Earlier this year, just prior to the lockdown, the Poonamalee Uyir Thuluva Vellalar Marabinar Sangam approached the High Court with historical facts of their contribution to the temple to plead with the court to direct the appointment of members from their community on the board of the temple. Based on the strength of the three centuries old data and their contribution to the initial development and later improvements of the temple, Kandaswamy is hoping for a decision in their favour some time in the first quarter of 2021.

TNCA League Cricket returns after nine months

Not willing to be tied down, a 65 year old takes the ground on the first weekend as league cricket returns to St Bedes 
Faulty temperature meters, no masks, breakfast from outside caterer, large number of footballers, archers and Silambattam trainees mark this Sunday morning at the St Bedes ground 

Players and officials entered the St Bedes ground over the weekend for the first time in nine months with mixed feelings and under the ‘new normal’ as official cricket kicked off in the city with the restart of the TNCA league matches. For starters, all the players and officials were at the ground at least one hour before the scheduled start of play on Sunday morning for a temperature check. Those that had temperature higher than the prescribed level were to be asked to leave the ground but thankfully all the players and officials were within the limits. And then the two umpires called on the captains of the two teams to lay down the special playing conditions under the new normal.

What was particularly interesting on Sunday morning was the presence of a 65 year old cricketer who has been playing in the league cricket in the TNCA since the age of 15. Former Central Zone and RBI leg spinner S Madhavan, who retired from the bank a few years ago, does not seem to be contemplating cricketing retirement anytime soon. Unmindful of the COVID scenario, he was bubbling with childlike enthusiasm and raring to have a go at the batsmen.

Madhavan has just completed 65years and will be in his 50th year in league cricket next season. He is a role model for all youngsters in the TNCA league. He had already taken close to 20 wickets in the season (2019-20) and has consistently taken over 25 wickets every season. At 8.30am this Sunday (Dec 27) morning at the St. Bedes ground, he is the only cricketer seen in full whites, one hour ahead of the scheduled start of the match. He has just had a temperature check and is ready for the round of exercises and fielding practice. It has easily been his longest period away from a cricket ground in almost half a century with him being tied inside his house for a large part of the last nine months. For a man well past 60, one would have expected him to be spending the Margazhi Sunday at a Kutcheri and not at a cricket ground but he is not a normal man, one whose hands cannot be kept away from the cricket ball, and offers a different perspective “The Sun is out this morning and shining brightly. A full day game under the hot sun is likely to increase your immunity. Bowling and Fielding is also likely to loosen up the different parts in the body. So overall, it could work towards better health.” 

Madhavan (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2018/11/rbi-madhavan-leg-spinner.html) was quite surprised when his wife proactively wished him well and asked him to give his best and enjoy the match. She had seen how restricted he had been during the period of the lockdown and his hands had been itching to have the red cherry once again. And thus when the TNCA announced last week the resumption of lower division league matches, there was a positive feeling of getting back on the ground once again. His feelings are quite understandable for he has always taken a lot of delight in spinning batsmen out with his leggies and wrong-uns. 

With the outbreak of the pandemic early this year, the lower division matches relating to 2019-20 had to be put on hold in March this year. The TNCA has put in place a SOP document for the umpires and players to follow during the matches. The players will not be allowed to apply saliva on the ball or spit on the ground. The TNCA’s umpiring committee has said that the players shall not handover their caps/sweaters/sun glass or any other personal clothing or equipment during the match to any of the umpires. 

Chairman of TNCA Umpiring committee JR Madanagopal said that he was hopeful of some good games under the new 'SOP' for cricket “It has been a long wait but we are hopeful of seeing some cricket again. Like in other walks of life, the Pandemic will result in a new normal in cricket as well and this will call for a change in mindset of both the cricketers and the umpires. In line with this thinking, the umpiring committee of the TNCA has put in place safety precautions that will assist in the smooth conduct of the matches in these testing times. 
The scene elsewhere at St Bedes is one of varied sporting activity. There are hundreds of sportsmen at the two grounds. While there is a non TNCA match at the St Beds ‘A’ ground (one wonders as to why there is no TNCA league match slated for this weekend at the A ground as well!!!), the footballers in large numbers are seen playing a match at the B ground. At the South end of the B ground are young Silambattam trainees practicing under their trainer. There are also those training archery.
Umpiring after the Lockdown 
The two umpires too have arrived early well before 8.30am, both with interesting backgrounds and were the only ones to wear a mask. Earlier this decade, K Raghuram took the call to turn into a full time professional umpire and is now a BCCI umpire. It has been a long wait for him on the professional front in 2020 with no matches in the last nine months but at home he has seen ups and downs. His 66 year old mother had a stroke a few months back and he had to spend a lot of time in the hospital. He  also had to spend time at the hospital awaiting the birth of his first child. Given this background, the family was a little apprehensive of him officiating in a league match when the COVID is still in the air but he says he has no options “Once I have decided to take this up as my profession there is no choice but to officiate. There is certainly a fear. I have given them the confidence that I would wear mask through the day and maintain social distancing as well. It surely is a tough call to take at this time where everything is uncertain.” 
The other umpire this morning Manu Needhi Chozhan is in the entertainment industry involved in background music recording for movies. To him, there was clearly a message from home to postpone umpiring by a couple of weeks. He himself is not sure how it will be given the new normal in cricket “My family asked me to wait and watch for two weekends to see how the matches in the league unfold and also the overall COVID scenario. But I have taken the call to officiate. I have brought a hand sanitizer from home and will be wearing the mask throughout. At the same time, the players are not likely to wear masks.” 

Interestingly, a member of the TNCA umpires committee and BCCI umpire R Rajesh Kannan(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2015/06/rajesh-kannan-bcci-board-umpire.html) took a rather bold call earlier this month and informed the TNCA that he would not be able to officiate the first division matches (when the TNCA had announced the completion of the first division matches from Dec 7) citing the presence of his aged mother at home. 
There are no bio bubbles in the TNCA league like the ones in international cricket and most of the sportsmen are not wearing a mask. The temperature meter did not measure up well at the B ground with the gauge even showing 40degrees for one of the cricketers!!! The outside caterer brought breakfast for one of the teams. While there is still some amount of apprehension among a few cricketers, overall a large percentage of them seem to have unshackled themselves and were seen mingling freely with fellow cricketers. 

Aravind Srinivasan, who played first division cricket for SBI and Alwarpet in the 1990s, now captains a lower division team in the TNCA league. He has also been a cricket coach for many years now. His team comprises of many youngsters with most of them aged below 20 and sees the resumption of league matches as a positive development but is finding the parents still treading with caution “In the larger interest, it is important to start playing matches. At some point we have start. Over the last month, the Covid cases in Chennai have seen a downward trend, which is a good sign. We have to look forward to positive things in life. I am currently seeing some initial apprehension from parents in sending their wards for practice or to the ground. Lot of them are still tentative, more so because senior citizens are at home. We have not resumed team practice.”
He has taken an interesting view on how he sees the resumption of the league matches and offers an important message for the cricketing fraternity “If the parents decide not to send their children to play the league matches, that should be respected. We should not hold that against them later on. League restarting is a good sign but you have to respect the free will of the parent and the players and the league team captains and coaches should not blame cricketers for not turning up for an important match. Also, the team officials or the TNCA should not be blamed if any of the cricketers gets Covid after playing in these league matches. In such challenging times, it is really a fine line and parents have to take that decision.”

Official cricket has come back to Madras this weekend after nine months. And life too seems to have returned to normalcy as seen from the activities at the St Bedes ground this morning.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

K Ravishankar Alwarpet TSM

A late bloomer, he rose to be in the TN probables in early 90s after match winning knocks against two top offies including Venkat but quit cricket at 23 following the death of his father
85 year old TSM has grown from Rs. 5cr to Rs. 100cr under his leadership - Targets to double this over the next five years
It was a hot Saturday afternoon in April 1988. This writer was asked by T Nagar Auditor Varadan (who promoted cricket actively in those days) to bowl to a promising cricketer in the nets ahead of his preparation for the YSCA Trophy match. It was also the season he was to sign up for Alwarpet to play in the first division for the first time. For well over two hours, he was full of concentration at the Vidya Mandir nets and gave a sense of ‘wanting to succeed’ in cricket much in contrast to the external public image that he portrayed of not being so serious about playing the game. That was one of those rare moments of outward display of his determination in cricket for throughout his cricket career including playing in lower division cricket years later, he gave the feeling of ‘enjoying’ his cricket and at most times allowing others to shine. After having started cricket very late, he had a riveting five years in the late 1980s and early 90s, a phase in which he captained his college to tournament victories, the Madras University to a final and contributed enough in the first division to warrant a place in the team for the then prestigious Buchi Babu tourney. But he quit a year later following the death of his father to focus on the family business one that he has taken to great heights. What shone through then and it has right through over the last three decades is that both in cricket and business, he remains as helpful as anyone can be in life always sporting a smile. Here is the story of one of the most pleasant cricketers the city has seen.

Like any youngster from the 1970s, K Ravishankar (Ravi) played tennis ball cricket every evening with the neighbourhood friends in Mylapore but much to his own surprise, he did not get into the more serious version as he did not find a place in the Vidya Mandir team till he was 14 such was the strength of school cricket in those days. Even after he managed to get into the squad in Class IX, he could not break through into the playing XI. One of his earliest inspirations right from those school days was the dashing opener VV Sankapani(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2016/01/sankapani-vv_21.html‘It was quite an experience to watch him bat. His knocks for the school combined with my non selection drove me to work harder on my batting.’

Finally, he got into the playing XI when he was in class XI, not always the right time for academically inclined students. A year later, he was in the city team in U17 but he did not make much of a progress. But at 18, with a lot more confidence of league runs and his performances for Vidya Mandir in his final year behind him, he starred at the U19 level where he represented South Zone.

Left arm fast bowler Hemant Srivatsa(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2015/04/hemant-srivatsa-cricketer-of-1980s.html), who was given a raw deal by Alwarpet in the late 1980s, was one year senior at Vidya Mandir. He remembers Ravi as a late bloomer “We were a strong side in the 80s. Ravi came in late into the school team but once he did, he performed really well. A stylish bat, non controversial and a sweet personality, he was the blue eyed boy of Vidya Mandir once he took charge and led the next bunch of cricketers there. ”

It was his performance in the third division league that got him into the strong Alwarpet team in the first division at 18. His father encouraged him to pursue cricket and stood by him through the teenage years. Hence, while his two brothers had professional degrees, Ravishankar focused on cricket at college. 

A Hero to us in the late 1980s- Gokulakrishnan
For former TN allrounder and State Coach, DJ Gokulakrishnan(https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2017/03/gokulakrishnan-j.html), Ravishankar was a hero at that time "He was my captain in Junior State. He has always been a nice person and was a good cricketer in those days. He also used to play as a guest for us in local tournaments. He was like a hero to us then." 
A Nervous entry into first division
As he looks back at those first six months at Alwarpet, he recalls the anxiety within him to prove in front of the stars of the TVS run team “As a teenager who had played his first ever cricket match just a few years earlier, here I was sitting next to Srikkanth who was at the peak of his India powers at that time. I was quite nervous watching Cheeka and Vidya Mandir icon Sanku give us those rollicking starts. It left me wondering if I really belonged to that stage. There was always this question of a lack of self belief in my abilities to muster big knocks.”

Despite this initial apprehension, the period from 1988 to 1992 was marked by some outstanding knocks almost to his disbelief against tough oppositions for Vivekananda College as well as for Alwarpet. In the practice matches for Vivekananda College against Jolly Rovers, he helped chase 300 runs including hitting B Arun out of the ground twice. Following this, he scored a half century against a SPIC attack comprising of TA Sekar and S Vasudevan. 
Fast bowler S Aravind played alongside Ravishankar at school, college and Alwarpet CC and watched him from the dressing room for close to a decade. He recalls Ravi from the 1980s and early 90s “He was a handsome (pun intended) left handed batsman who should have played for the state for long. Once when we had toured England to play a few matches, we played against a team called HULL CC. They had a few overseas players. I remember, vividly, we were 0 for 2. A tall, well built, strong West Indian who was really quick had bagged 2 wickets in the first few balls. Ravi, who opened the batting that day, scored a brilliant century to get us back into the game. As a person, Ravi is ever helpful and a very kind hearted person, who means good for others.”

The four years at college were quite intense and he peaked in cricket in that phase. Against Pachaiyappas College comprising SM Balaji and P Rajesh, he played a captain’s knock in the final to help win the trophy. His tourney winning knock of 90NO for Vivekananda College against a Karnataka XI in the Brijesh Patel Cricket Clinic’s Annual tourney in Bangalore (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/05/promodh-sharma-cricketer-turned.html) earned him early praise from Brijesh himself “He called me and told me that I had the promise and had it in me to play higher. It was inspirational words that helped me belief a bit more in my abilities.”
He remembers the century against a strong MRF bowling attack comprising of Vivek Razdan (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2013/08/vivek-razdan-on-ta-sekar-and-pace.html) and Robin Singh that gave him a lot of confidence that he belonged to that level. He was adjudged the Best Batsman in the prestigious annual tournament held in Tirupanuthura. In the four years he was at Alwarpet, he also managed once to put on a century stand with the then India captain Srikkanth (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/10/csk-srikkanth-aniruddha.html )at the University Union ground against SBI “Everyone ran on to the ground to get an autograph from Cheeka and then a few got my autograph too. It was an amazing feeling to be signing autographs alongside the Indian captain.”

Srikkanth, who was a great source of encouragement, helped him secure a cricket contract with a minor county in the UK league where he scored a lot of runs in swinging conditions.

Best Knocks against two offies
He remembers two knocks played against two top off spinners as the best of his career. Against IOB, he countered the wily M Santosh Kumar, who he calls as a top off spinner of the time. And then came the knock of 95 against India Pistons where he weathered the bowling of legendary off spinner S Venkataraghavan (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/04/venkataraghavan75.html) who was also a state selector at that time. Srikkanth had told him shortly after that Venkat was impressed with his batting and saw the potential in him to progress to the next level in cricket. Being a left hander, it was particularly pleasing for him at that time to come up with two big knocks against renowned off spinners.
Fails crucially in Buchi Babu Tourney
Ravishankar topped 700runs at the turn of the decade for Alwarpet and seemed to be going in the right direction. He was in the Buchi Babu team and the Ranji probable. He had heard stories of Gavaskar performing in the Buchi Babu tournament in the 1970s when he was growing up and he considered it an honour to be selected for that tournament. However, once again, self doubts lingered as he was surrounded by bigger stars in the team and he did not free himself enough to make a mark in that tournament that was then the stepping stone for entry into Ranji cricket.

Lack of Self Belief
Despite being a late bloomers, within a few years of his entry into first division, he had contributed enought to find a place in the prestigious Buchi Babu tourney but it was not until he played for MCC well over a decade later was he able to express himself freely “I just was not there mentally. I did not have the self belief to convert those starts in the Buchi Babu tournament into big knocks that would have helped me seal the Ranji Selection. Even though I knew I had a wide array of strokes, I imposed a lot of ‘self restrictions’ on my game and I just could not break the shackles. It was not until 2005 when I came back in cricket to play for MCC did I free myself and began playing like Sanku. I decided to hit a boundary in the first over of the innings, much like Sanku did and I enjoyed in that role but back in the late 80s and 90s, I was almost a nervous wreck playing alongside Srikkanth.”

Former Alwarpet team mate R Madhavan, who Ravi says treated him like a younger brother found Ravi to be graceful in his stroke play “He was extremely talented and a graceful batsman. He could also bowl a bit. I feel he did not concentrate enough as he had business commitments to shoulder.”
With the brothers having secured a professional degree and a family business to run, there was always a conflict between cricket and academics and a doubt as to how long he should continue with cricket. 

The death of his father in November 1992 led to Ravishankar quitting serious cricket and joining the then 60year old used cars business in April 1995 after completing his MBA  from Manipal University. Thus, by 23, he quit cricket after having been in the Ranji probables and the Buchi Babu squad the previous year. He has no regrets on quitting cricket early "23 was a threshold for me in terms of being in the TN squad. When I did not manage that and with a family business to take care of, I made that call to let go of cricket."

A new business model after 60years 
Soon after joining TSM, he dramatically changed the business model. After having been a pure used car broking firm for the best part of 60years, Ravishankar launched the ‘buy and sell’ model soon after taking over charge in the mid 1990s when the company’s turnover was just a few crores. This meant significant ongoing investment into the business. This new model initiated by Ravishankar now contributes around 50% to the overall business of TSM. 

Father’s message - Be Polite
His father, Krishnamurthy, persisted with a few key messages all through Ravishankar’s childhood – ‘Always be polite and nice to people, respect them irrespective of who they are and have your feet grounded regardless of the success you achieve’. He seems to be following his father’s message every single day in all walks of life as endorsed by a conversation about five years ago.

Ravishankar had been drained out with non-stop calls from his customers and colleagues. De-hydrated, he was in bed the whole of the afternoon. He was back the next morning at his cheerful best talking to his two decades old customer in the way that only Ravi can. In an hour long chat, the customer (who had not sold a car outside of TSM) was in negotiation to sell his old Accent. While it seemed to be a done deal, he kept coming back to the point of ‘what’s the best price’. Ravi gave enough reasons to convince his customer that this was seriously a great price for him. Almost every single time, he makes the customer leave the showroom with a sense of ‘I have got the best possible price in Madras’!!! 

Ravi recalls watching as a young school boy customers handing over the car key to his father and accepting the rate quoted by his father. Such was the trust reposed on them by the customers. It is kind of the same trust that a majority of his customers have in him.

Uncharted Territory
It all started in 1935. His grandfather the legendary TS Mahalingam was in Burma. Having worked there for a while (he was said to be a great auto mechanic who could solve any problem relating to cars - such was his expertise), he saw an opportunity to trade in cars, something that had not been done previously in a formal way in Madras and was of the firm belief that this would one day become a big business in the city. He came back from Burma and took the bold move to start this from a small shop near the Swagat Hotel on Royapettah High Road. During the first decade of the launch, he would charge Rs. 5-10 to bring together the buyer and seller and to broker the sale of a car!!!

Into the mid 1950s, three of TSM’s sons took this business into the next phase of growth. Those days, the fee had risen to around Rs. 100 per transaction. It was also the time that they bought out the property - now a landmark location - on Royapettah High Road. It surprised them that they had customers from Nagaland and Mizoram. There were many instances when customers from Andhra Pradesh camped at the Swagat Hotel for days and went back only after TSM helped them close the ‘car deal’. 

Soon after he joined, Ravi organised an exchange mela giving away cell phones free as part of the deal - this was the first time TSM had done a mela. The result - he sold 72 Maruti cars that weekend. 

Cricket and TSM
Cricket has played a big part in building a strong customer base for TSM. A good number of his customers are yester year cricketers who look up to Ravi for advice. There is a great comfort factor for the cricketers in entrusting their car ‘buy and sell’ to Ravi.

While broking – a business that they were in for the first 60years - was a stable model with fixed commission, the buying and selling of used cars that Ravi has forayed into is fraught with risk. There have been times that the cars he has bought have remained unsold for months but overall it has paid rich dividends. These days he is constantly on the look out to buy used cars. 

Ravi has also diversified TSM’s business into Insurance and car loans as part of a de-risking strategy. 

He says margins are low in the used cars business and it is important to drive volumes. He jokes that he would have earned lot more by letting out this prime premises in Royapettah but the joy of providing employment to a lot of people, a 100 of them now, seeing the happiness in them and the process of carrying on the legacy of a firm started by his grandfather 85years ago is very satisfying that no amount of money cannot compensate.

In between taking care of his business and his time at the cricket grounds playing inter club cricket for MCC, Ravi was lured into acting by his school mate (and son of KB) Prasanna. Ravi donned the role of a handsome ‘young boy’ in KB’s Premi. Despite receiving accolades for his acting skills, Ravi could not allocate time away from his business and hence it has thus far been restricted to just a couple of roles on TV.

A scene at the TSM office on a Tuesday morning, normally a lean day in the week says it all about Ravi and his pleasant personality. Two staffers at his office are engaged in a heated discussion on the price of a vehicle. As the two debate the sale price, the lady throws in the final winning punch. - Ravi Sir thought that Rs. 4.20L was a good deal leaving the man totally frustrated. This is a typical event at the TSM showroom every day with Ravi almost always seeming to give away a better deal to his customer. With Ravi, you have always felt that he has given more than he has taken. He has kind of never said ‘No’ to anything people have asked of him. 

Helpful Personality
In 1999, it was one of those close matches in a third division league match for Prithvi at the Pachaiyappas College ground. Ravi and this writer were playing for the same team that year. A young not so financially well to do 19year old boy from the outskirts of the city brought the back from what looked like a certain defeat. The clock had just ticked past 5pm that Sunday evening and it had been a long tiring day. While all the players were packing their bags to leave, Ravi took out his new pair of shoes and in an instant gesture of appreciation of helping the team win handed it to the young boy with a ‘well played, do well’ message that left the boy in tears.

His teammate from his Alwarpet days and my spin partner at YMCA TSR V Sakthivel is now a mid level manager at Sundaram Finance. He also played against Ravi’s Vivekananda when he captained Loyola college. He recently bought a second hand car that Ravishankar suggested with no second thoughts or options and with no bargaining. Sakthivel recalls the everlasting quality of Ravi as a personality “Two qualities have not changed in Ravi in the 30 years that I have known since our first match together for Alwarpet. He continues to be very jovial and is easily one of the most helpful persons that I have seen. Down to earth as a personality, he often goes out of his way to help others. During those cricketing days, while he did not externally show the burning desire to perform, once he went into bat, he always gave it his best, though he  always gave an impression to others that he was not all that serious on cricket.”
This buring desire to his batting was seen when in an inter club match a few years ago Ravi, then in his late 40s, almost refused to leave the wicket after getting out LBW to this writer. 

Today, he sells on an average around 250 cars every month from the three branches in the city. TSM has also moved digital with all info on the cars at TSM now available online. He is bullish on the used cars business especially with the market growing and the consumption levels on the rise. 

An upward spiral just before the lockdown
The used cars sales at the firm that he has been heading and managing for the last 25 years went on an upward spiral in the first fortnight of March this year. Just before the lockdown, he closed out a Rs. 50lakhs deal of a high end luxury car with a leading doctor in Chennai. That showed to him that business is there to be taken. “The first fortnight of March saw us post one of the best sales for March, in years. Used car sales were rocking. There seemed to be a buying frenzy. It looked like the sales would boom for the rest of the year. And suddenly with the lockdown, it felt like having fallen from a cliff” says Ravishankar looking back at the lockdown phase.

Business is back - Targets to double turnover
The Lockdown gave him many sleepless nights for he was worried about the uncertainty in business and the likely speed of recovery. However, with the lifting of restrictions, the business has seen a sharp climb up on the back of pent up demand and the social distancing apprehensions relating to Public transportation. His grand father had built the firm offering value to customers in terms of quality and range, a fair pricing in his deals and terrific after sales service. And Ravi has been continuing that legacy taking it forward at a much faster pace. When he took charge in 1995, TSM clocked turnover of just around Rs. 5crores. Today, he has driven that up to around Rs. 100crores. 

Ravishankar, who was not always ambitious in cricket, now aims to double TSM’s turnover to around Rs. 200crores over the next five years. It is likely he will do that with the cheerful smile that he has sported all his life and the message that the customer should always be the winner.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Vayilar Nayanar Utsavam

The Utsavam on Margazhi Revathi marked the first occasion in 9 months that the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore permitted devotees to watch an Abhisekam 
Adiyars' sacred recital, Saidapet boys' beating of the drums, presence of young Vedic students, an Othuvar from Chidambaram, the Abhisekam organised by the Poonamallee Mudhaliar Community and a Pushpa Pallakku procession mark the celebrations
It is just after 9am on Wednesday (Dec 23) morning. One of the members of the Poonamalee Uyir Thuluva Velala Marabinar Sangam has arrived early and is anxiously making calls ahead of the big moment at 10am. The Mudhaliar community based Sangam was formed over seven decades ago in 1946 and now has over 750 people as its members mostly from 18 villages around Poonamallee. The Sangam has been organizing, for the last three decades, the Abhisekam every Margazhi Revathi on the occasion of the Guru Pooja of Mylapore’s only Saivite Saint Poet Vayilar Nayanar.

Given the significance of the day for Kapaleeswarar temple, given that Vayilar is the only Nayanar from Mylapore, the Sangam had placed a request to permit devotees to the abhisekam. And much to everyone’s delight, the HR & CE consented to the request. Hence this was to be the first abhisekam with devotee darshan after the lockdown was introduced in the second fortnight of March this year. 

The member of the Sangam was keen that all the abhisekam ingredients and the special flower garlands were in place by 10am. 

Adiyars presenting sacred verses
By 9.30am, Adiyars from across the state including from Madurai, Erode, Bhavani and Erode arrived in large numbers at the Vayilar Nayanar Sannidhi. Electrical Engineer Sivaraj, an Adiyar, who quit a high paying corporate job in Dubai and returned to Madurai has been present at the Mukthi Utsavam of all the 63 Nayanmars in recent years. He is currently working (from home) in Madurai as an audio editor of Saivam.org, an organization that provides the sacred verses of the Saivite Saint Poets over voice on the web. 
He says that it is Lord Kapaleeswarar’s blessings that provided the enlightenment to quit the corporate job and be involved in a sacred activity that has given him a great deal of happiness in recent years “We (Adiyars) belong to different locations in TN but about 30 of us congregate at the respective temple on the day of the Mukthi of every Nayanmar and present the sacred verses of the Saint Poet “As Vayilar Nayanar belongs to Mylapore, our group of around 30 Adiyars arrived here this morning to narrate the story of Vayilar Nayanar from the Periya Puranam.”

VK Shankar, Secretary of the Poonamalee Uyir Thuluva Velala Marabinar Sangam was delighted when he heard the HR & CE had cleared the Abhisekam for devotee darshan “It is great recognition for Vayilar Nayanar that the HR & CE chose this occasion to grant permission for the first abhisekam for devotee darshan after the lockdown was enforced. While there was interest from the entire Mudhaliar community to be present on this occasion, we decided due to the Covid restrictions that only the committee members of the Sangam would make to the utsavam this morning.”
Shankar says that their forefathers had been the trustees of the Kapaleeswarar temple over a 100 years ago and it was only after HR & CE took over the administration that they began managing the temple. But even today, one person from the Mudhaliar community continues to be on the board of the temple. There is a case in the court to make Mudhaliars the Trustee of the temple instead of the Thakkar appointment (made by the HR & CE) that is currently in vogue.

All the way trip from Chidambaram
OTHUVAR Ramanan, who has been at the Chidambaram temple for the last 12 years,  hails from Thiruvaiyaru.  He took VRS from Indian bank to devote his life for the cause of propagation of  Periya Puranam and helping the Adiyaars pursue a life to attain the feet of Lord Shiva. He made his way to Mylapore this morning to be present on this sacred occasion.  He was leading the group of devotees in the recital of the sacred verses.
During the hour long Abhisekam at the Vayilar Nayanar Sannidhi that started just after 10am, Kapaleeswarar Temple’s Sargurunathan Othuvar (https://prtraveller.blogspot.com/2020/12/othuvar-sargunathan-kapali-temple.html) presented 20 verses from the Thiruvempaavai.

Gurukal's blessed feel
Arunachalam Gurukal, who has been serving for 28years, expressed delight at getting the opportunity to be the one this day to perform the Abhisekam for Vayilar Nayanar (Moolavar and Utsavar) in full public view for the first time in nine months. And the devotional fervour among the devotees reached its peak when he presented the Deepa Aradhanai just after 11am that brought to end the events in the morning. 

Mylapore’s Vayilar and his devotion
Vayilar Nayanar belonged to the Saiva Vellalar community. He was keen to make contributions to Saivite temples but hailing from a financially poor farming family, he did not have the financial wherewithal. Unmindful of the fact that his wishes were unlikely to be fulfilled in his current life, he decided to reach Lord Shiva through devotion. He did not express himself in the form of songs and hence he came to be referred to as Vayilar (the Voiceless). In the Periya Puranam, Seekizhyar describes the greatness of this devotion of Vayilar Nayanar. As part of this devotion, each day he visualized in his mind the construction of a temple for the Lord and the performance of Abhisekam. The (anandam) happiness in his mind amounted to Abhisekam, the devotion and love he had for the Lord turned out to be Neyvedyam. He lit the devotional lamp of self illumination and presented flowers for Thirumanjanam all in his mind. 

A Grand Alankaram
Just after 5pm, Balaji Gurukal, another hereditary archaka at the Kapaleeswarar temple began an hour long decoration of the Utsava deity of Vayilar Nayanar. Through the hour, the Adiyars were in great devotional mood presenting sacred verses in Unison. Around 10 boys, hailing from Saidapet and all in their teens brought out the traditional ‘Udal’ (the sacred drum) and began a devotional beating of the Udal. 
It was just past 7pm when the screen finally opened to the recital of Othuvar Sargurunathar’s recital and the Deepa Aradhanai to the loud devotional cries of the hundreds of devotees who had lined up both sides of the Vayilar Nayanar Sannidhi. Led by the beating of the drums and to the devotional sound of the conch, Vayilar Nayanar provided darshan seated inside the grand Pushpa Pallakku as he went around the temple complex thrice in a pradakshanam. 

Under normal circumstances, this would have been a grand procession around the four Mada streets of Mylapore. But this year with the restriction on street processions, the devotees had to do with having darshan of their Mylapore Nayanar within the temple. Nevertheless, it was a devotional couple of hours at the Kapaleeswarar temple with the Adiyars presenting the sacred verses in multiple groups, the boys joyfully beating the drums, several service personnel holding aloft the Ghee lit lamps ( Bandha Kaatchi) that led the procession and the devotees for the first time in many months witnessing a grandly decorated procession. 
Mylapore’s Nayanar had had his devotional day on Wednesday at the Kapaleeswarar temple. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sharath S TN Cricket's ATG

The Dogged Run Machine
The First TN cricketer to play a 100 Ranji matches was one of the most consistent batsmen for the state but his strong match winning performances in the Ranji, Duleep and Deodhar Trophy was not enough to break into the National team in the 1990s
To play that length of time and score the number of runs he did in domestic cricket in challenging situations after overcoming a career threatening injury early in his career is testimony to his resilience, his determination to succeed against odds and his gritty batting skill
Sharath was the best batsman we had at that time, in the Team –the most solid technique amongst all of us, a rare combination a very sound defence  with a good range of strokes and an ability to adapt to different conditions and formats very easily – S Sriram, TN teammate and former India Batsman
It was the summer of 1988 and YMCA TSR CC hosted a 30overs match against a team from St Bedes/Santhome at the YMCA Pavilion ground (Nandanam). The talk that morning was all about two players from the opposition. One had just returned from his stint at U19 World Cup for India (though he had had a disastrous tourney) and the other was a young lean 15 year old rookie just getting into class XI who stole singles right through that innings with nudges and placements. He was not elegant in stroke play and did not seem naturally talented but it was difficult to get him out that day and he remained so throughout his cricket career, often fighting it out till the very end for his team’s cause. A major road accident 5 years later set his cricketing progress back by a year but came back strong from that career threatening injury and went on to play well over a 100 first class matches. Stats may not always reveal a true story but in this cricketer's case, it probably does. Throughout his career, he contributed to victories  be it at the club level or the state or zone but the national call remained elusive all his cricketing life. To play that length of time and score the number of runs he did in domestic cricket in challenging situations after overcoming a career threatening injury early in his career is testimony to his resilience, his determination to succeed against odds and his dogged batting skill. Here is the story of the man who is popularly referred to as the 'ATG' of TN cricket.

S Sharath’s first knock at cricket was by accident. It was an inter class match at Montford School and Class V-B was short of a full XI. And the young boy was asked if he could join (to just fill the XI). He scored a half century against the strong A side and was immediately called for school practice. Ganesh, who repairs bats opposite St. Bedes ground secured for him an entry into the TNCA league when he was in class VI. In those early days, he would join the fielding practice of TS Mohan at St. Bedes, a group that included G Shyamsundar, CK Suresh and RI Palani. 

By the time he was in class XI, he had graduated to play in the 2nd division (Sridhar CC) where he scored 450 runs and those runs were enough to get him a place in the RBI team. 

The Formative Years at Chemplast
Bharath Reddy remembers picking up Sharath early from RBI when he was still a teenager "We roped him in early and he contributed significantly for us for almost a decade. He was a very dependable batsman. While he was not naturally talented like many other cricketers of the time, he made up for it with hard work, grit and determination. He always placed a high prize on his wicket."

Sharath had earlier told this writer that the period at Jolly Rovers was the best he had experienced in terms of professionalism. He recalls the contribution of Bharath Reddy from his early years at Jolly Rovers “Bharath was a no nonsense man, who pulled up those who did not measure up. He made me realise how professional cricket is to be played. It was a great learning experience for me early on to be guided by Bharath.”
After a fine first season with Jolly Rovers when won the first division trophy he had found a place in the Buchi Babu team.  Sharath credits Abdul Jabbar the legendary Southpaw from the 1970s and 80s as the reason for his growth in his emerging years at Jolly Rovers "Jabbar was the one who threw deep insights into batting that had a long standing impact on me especially on how to craft an innings and work your runs. The technical inputs that he shared with me in those early days at Chemplast was unmatched."

In those formative years, he also credits B Arun for a profound impact on him as a cricketer 'Arun handled the youngsters so well. He knew the way to handle the different 'characters' - the stars as well as the newcomers in the team and created that comfort factor for us. His man management skills were among the best and the dressing room atmosphere was lovely whenever he was there."

Century in U19 Test
The first signs of his long innings ability at the national level came in the U19 test where playing for India under the captaincy of Rahul Dravid, he scored 135 and 74 against Stephen Fleming’s New Zealand in Bangalore in the first test in 1992. He followed this with a half century in the 2nd test. He had already notched up a double century in the domestic U19 inter state matches and led TN to the (joint) national championship with a 75 in the final. Clearly at that time, he was matching Dravid run for run. 
Former India cricketer Sujith Somasundar, who played with Sharath for Chemplast as well as for South Zone in the late 1990s remembers Sharath from his teenage days “I watched him bat for the first time as a 17 year old in Tirupathi and was instantly impressed with his footwork. He stood out as a teenager. It was rare for someone to jump out to spinners at that age but he used his feet beautifully.”

The accident – a set back to his career
Shortly after his success in the U19 tests, he made his Ranji debut and had a solid first year for TN. And then all of a sudden on the evening of Dec 7, 1993, his cricketing life was pushed back by another accident – a tragic one on the road. The first match of the 1993-94 Ranji season at Chepauk was washed off due to rain. As was the practice in those days, the one dayer immediately followed the Ranji match. TN was bundled out by Azhar’s Hyderabad for just 69 in the 50overs match with Sharath scoring a duck. Disappointed with his performance and the failure in the first innings of the new season, he headed to PK Dharmalingam’s nets at Sishya soon after the early completion of the match.
At the Ayappan temple junction on Santhome High Road a speeding police jeep knocked him flat on the road that resulted in the flesh on his left ankle gushing out. It needed multiple surgeries and he was for sure to be out of action for the rest of the cricket season. But the doctor’s feedback at the Malar Hospital left him shell shocked “You can have a normal work life but you may have to forget cricket for the rest of your life” recalls Sharath of the first words of the doctor. At a time when doctors did not give him cricketing hope, he found strength from friends George John, DJ Gokulakrishnan and Shanmugham who kept his spirits up. He remembers the support from Chemplast in the first fortnight after the accident “Without support from Chemplast it is unlikely I would have recovered in cricket. It was Vijay Sankar’s initial encouragement when I was at Malar that boosted my confidence.”

A failed Surgery 
If the accident was bad, the initial surgery was worse. It did not go well. After a fortnight, he continued to experience excruciating pain on his left leg that led him to believe that something was not right. He reached out to his doctor aunt in Bangalore and his suspicion came true as she confirmed to him that the initial surgery had not gone well On January 1, 1994 (the week when a few kms from the hospital, he was hearing news of Karnataka scripting a great comeback Ranji win against TN thanks to the then upcoming Rahul Dravid) he underwent another surgery in Bangalore. He had been bed ridden through most of December, and January proved to be another painful month.

An Unlikely helping hand 
In Bangalore, he received support from an unexpected quarter. Sujit Somasundar, who had played U17 cricket with Sharath and who too had made his Ranji debut for Karnataka, came to know of his presence in the city and helped him with physiotherapy at a time when Sharath was not able to place his feet on the ground. Sharath says it was a most unexpected and timely support by a cricketer from another state at an important moment in his life. In those days, the relationship between TN and Karnataka cricketers was not particularly rosy but Sujith went out of his way to reach out to Sharath and help him that first quarter of 1994.
A Friendly Character
Also, Sujith, who is currently the Head of Education, NCA, saw Sharath as being very different from many of the other players from TN of that era “While he was very competitive on the field, he was very friendly off the field and moved well with us (Karnataka players). He was the kind of guy who would come on his own and talk to you. In fact, that is what helped him in the recuperation of the injury as well. Some times as one from another state you do not know if the other player would be receptive to your solution. But Sharath was with the physiotherapy that I suggested. While I may have helped him a bit with a solution, credit goes to him for being open to receiving support from someone like me. And that does not always happen.”

By May that year, Sharath was back on his feet contributing to a victory in a summer tourney in Kodaikanal. A month or so later, he came back with a bang in league cricket scoring a century at the start of the new season. After having missed the entire Ranji Season in 1993-94, he returned to the Ranji team and was never dropped in his career for runs flowed from his bat the following decade as he went on to become the first cricketer from Tamil Nadu to play 100 Ranji matches topping 8000 runs that remained a record for over a decade before Abhinav passed that recently.

Sujith says that while the injury did hamper him in the initial phase, he adapted himself like no other cricketer of the generation “Getting operated multiple times on an ankle is likely to have a very serious impact on the leg. Sheer determination and passion for the game helped him overcome such a major injury. He was fleet footed especially to the spinners when he was 17. Much later in the 1990s after the injury, I did not see him stepping out often. He adapted himself and created other favourite strokes. He was one of the most intelligent batsmen I have seen and had this uncanny ability to play on the bowler’s psyche. To come out of such an injury and play well over 100 matches is creditable. I did not see any other player of my generation with such a major injury who came back as strongly as Sharath did in the 1990s.”
One of his favourite matches
95-96 was a big year for him when he scored close to 800 runs including a double century.  It was one of the matches that season that he counts among his most favourite in his long 15 year career. In the quarter final against Bombay in Tirunelveli in February 1996, Sharath top scored in both the innings on an underprepared wicket with knocks of 86 and 90 in a match when both the teams did not top 250 “If I had got another 24 runs ( 14+10), my career may have taken a different turn/ A century in both innings in a winning effort against Bombay may have caught national attention. Even though I played two match winning knocks, it did not get the  attention it deserved” points out Sharath, quite disappointed at not having scored those extra runs to the century in both the innings. 

He followed this with another match winning 4th innings partnership with WV Raman in the Semi Final against Delhi at Chepauk after TN had lost both openers early in what seemed to be a difficult chase. In two successive knock out matches against strong oppositions, he had recorded match winning knocks. The final that year turned out to be an anti climax after Karnataka scored over 600 runs in its first innings. 

Closest to National Selection - India A and against Touring teams
He began the next season in terrific form with centuries in his first match in all the three domestic tournaments – Ranji, Duleep and Deodhar including securing a big comeback win for South Zone with a double century stand with TN teammate S Ramesh as the team chased close to 400 in the 4th innings. 

These knocks earned him his first major national call at the senior level with him being included in the Board Presidents XI against the touring South Africans and then a couple of months later in February 1997 for the India A team for the SAARC tournament. His unbeaten half century helped India A crush Bangladesh to take the team to the final, where too he was taking India A to victory with a run chase against Pakistan when rain forced a wash out. But despite these two brilliant knocks, he went out of favour when India A toured Pakistan, with Rohan Gavaskar replacing him "That was one of my biggest shocks and disappointments. I was so confident of selection that I had even checked with WV Raman about the various grounds in Pakistan. I had also purchased formals ahead of the tour but I was not picked. It was one of the most shocking moments of my career."

He was in the 25member probables for the 1997 Asia Cup but was not in the final squad. Later that year, he played another tour match this time against the visiting Lankans but failed to score.
Failure to score against visiting International teams
Former middle order batsman from the 1980s, PC Prakash, who was the Head Coach of the TN U23 team last year and from whom Sharath learnt a lot, while endorsing the tag of ‘ATG’ points out to the missed opportunities “He was no doubt one of the most consistent performers in that period and got runs in tough situations. But in those decades, the performance against touring teams was often the clincher. Sharath did not perform in the two matches against SA and SL. May be unfortunate but it was those one or two matches that really counted in those times."

A couple of years later, he was in top form again across formats and tournaments. Once again he topped 800runs in the Ranji season and scored centuries in the Duleep and Deodhar Trophy as well. But he never came close to national selection again. A year later, in 2000, he resigned himself to the fact that he was unlikely to be considered again at the National level (even the A tours). But he continued on from those disappointments and played for a major part of the next decade for Tamil Nadu in the process becoming the first cricketer from the state to play 100 Ranji matches. 
In first division league cricket, he played a significant role in IOB bagging the Palayampatti Shield in the only year he played for them after he moved from Jolly Rovers. Much later, when he was well into his late 30s, he continued to score centuries at will in the first division playing for the 2nd team of India Cements with the 170 against his former club Jolly Rovers comprising of R Ashwin, L Balaji and Piyush Chawla being a particularly cherished knock.

Biggest Day of his Life - 100 Ranji Matches
He scored four centuries in Duleep Trophy, 2 each against North and West including match winning knocks. For long, he was not considered a one day player but his match winning record in Deodhar Trophy speaks for itself. In a period of three years in the late 90s, he had six knocks of over 75, three of which he converted to centuries. He is particularly proud that he averages 45 in one day cricket for TN even though the general perception in that phase had been that he was an average one day player. He scored a century in his 100th Ranji match at Rajkot and counts being honoured by the TNCA and his boss at India Cements, N Srinivasan, for his century of Ranji matches as the biggest day of his life. 

The Best Bat in the TN team
Former India batsman and a teammate of Sharath through the late 90s and early 2000s, Sridharan Sriram points to how Sharath was looked up to by players from the NextGen "Sharath was the best batsman we had at that time, in the Team. He had the most solid technique amongst all of us, a rare combination of someone who had a very sound defence but also a good range of strokes. He could adapt to different conditions and formats very easily. He was looked upto by the youngsters who wanted to emulate his appetite for runs and therefore set a very high standard for someone coming into the Team. It was just unfortunate that he did not go on to represent the country, something he deserved."
Throughout his 15year cricketing career, he placed a high value on his wicket. A majority of his big knocks were played under pressure when the team had lost early wickets. With his consistency, he created a 'presence' for himself in the team with the opponents always wanting to get his wicket. A match was never safe for the opposition till the time Sharath was there in the middle. 

Two decades after his roller coaster domestic performances in the late 1990s, there is disappointment writ large on his face when he is reminded of not playing for the country.  He points to the fact that he was not a ‘stats’ players and the unfair treatment meted out to him when he was in peak form.  “Out of the 23 centuries in Ranji Trophy, over 75% were match winning knocks. I was not one to score runs in dead matches. Those at the helm at that time just did not back me and my prowess with the bat.”

This story will leave the final word with former India Cricketer WV Raman, who Sharath looked up to as an icon when he grew up as a cricketer. He says that Sharath may have underrated himself and not backed himself enough.
He was always consistent and recorded a lot of big knocks on tough tracks. He played very long. In a way it was sort of unfortunate he could not break into the national side, even though he had done enough to get in. Sometimes it is very tough on a domestic cricketer to not get the right breaks but then his contribution or ability is no way less. One has to genuinely feel sorry for him. The 'levers in a lock' did not click together at the same time. The one thing I would have against him is that he probably underrated himself and hence did not back himself enough."

"But despite the disappointments and frustrations, the fact that he continued to play and perform creditably till the 2000s is testimony to his application, determination and perseverance. And that is admirable. In the annals of TN cricket, Sharath will definitely go down as an ATG (All Time Great).

After his retirement, he donned the role of Chairman of Selectors for five years and has been a match referee over the last many years. His next big goal is to become a National Selector. With the credibility he has had as a player, that day may not be far off. And may be, he will bring to the new age cricketers justice that he for long did not seem to get during his playing days!!!