Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Vilvam ‘Anna’ Vasudevan Kapaleeswarar Temple

The ‘Silent’ Man breathes the Thevaram Verses every minute of his life and believes there is a solution in these verses to every problem in life
He took to 'Silence' for a full year to cure a devotee's child
Has there ever been an Acharya who has initiated disciples into the sacred verses for over a decade without speaking a single word!!!
                     Vilvam Anna @ Kasi

He is back this month at the Kapaleeswarar temple after a long trip to Kasi. The long beard that was symbolic of him in 2020 is gone and ‘surprisingly’ so has his presence inside the Kapaleeswarar Sannidhi. On the evening of the Arubhathumoovar Utsavam last week, this writer received a call at 9.50pm from Lakshmanan, the acting JC of the Kapaleeswarar temple with a query that you do not normally associate with the EOs of HR & CE temples “who is that glowing face on your whats app display.” When this writer informed him that he is the man who has spent the last two decades right inside that temple complex, he responded with delight “I have been (an EO) at almost all the major temples in TN and have interacted with most of the Mutt heads but have never seen anyone with the ‘தேஜஸ்’ of this man.” The JC was the most recent of the callers who have made similar remarks about this man. Top cricketers in the city and some of the leading Vaishnavite Priests at TN temples have seen a ‘spark’ in that man. However, despite their keen interest to meet him, not one has taken time out to meet the man.There may have also been any number of likes and positive comments about him on the social media during his long trip to Kasi end of 2020 and in January this year, when he broke his silence after a decade. It is one thing to post likes, quite another to recite Pathikams inside the temple without the use of mobile phones and talking to one another. 

Back in Madras, he has returned once again to his ‘Silent’ mode but this writer managed to catch the 60 year old Vilvam ‘Anna’ Vasudevan on one (emergency) ‘non Mounam’ day this month at the Kapaleeswarar temple. He is not in the least surprised to hear this (those who saw a rare spark not meeting him). With his first response, he provides total clarity on his outlook to life “You cannot 'convince' people. You cannot change any of them, unless they decide to on their own. If you thought I was so influential, you would be hearing a wave of Thevaram verses around me. How many years have I been reciting the verses and how many people do you now see with me. Unless Kapaleeswarar showers his blessings, no one would reach out.”

It is past 9.30pm and time to leave as the lights go off around the temple complex. As he walks back home along the Ponnambala Vathiyar Street, he says that it is the one day he has spoken this month as there was an emergency call from an overseas country (and that there seems to be some reason that Kapaleeswarar has brought the two together on this one off ‘talking’ day). 

100s of Pages of hand written 'Dharmic' notes
Vilvam ‘Anna’ Vasudevan goes into the traditional looking house and comes back with a large spiral bound book that he hands to this writer. It contains several hundred pages of hand written notes on Dharmic way of life and an understanding of life from the Ramayana and the sacred verses of the Saivite Saint Poets that provide insights into how he has mastered the subject.

Between 2000 and 06, he along with four others visited 200 Thevaram temples where they recited the sacred verses including ones relating to that temple and Pancha Puranam. He had earlier given up his corporate job which he says was 'to take care of his amma', now aged 96, and to dedicate the rest of his life to spreading the greatness of sacred verses. During the big utsavam at the Kapaleeswarar temple, the Chidambaram temple and a few other historical temples, he completes one Parayanam during the period of the utsavam.

He rubbishes any reference to him leading a ‘Saintly life’. But his long time student 34 year old Thaniga Raja says Vilvam Anna breathes the sacred verses every moment of his life and lives by example uniquely, in ‘Silence’.

Solving the financial Challenges
Raja was just 15 years old in 2002 and dressed in shorts when his appa brought him to the Kapaleeswarar temple. He recounts his first meeting with Vilvam Anna “We were in debt and in serious financial difficulty. When Vilvam Anna passed by, it struck him that we were facing some challenges. He called my appa to enquire and handed to him a small book comprising of verses from the Panniru Thirumurai.”

“He asked us to recite with devotional sincerity and sent us back from the temple that day with a belief that our problems will be solved. I really did not understand its importance then.” 

Relief from Jaundice
The family’s problems were indeed solved. A couple of years later, when Raja was struck with Jaundice, at 19, it was Vilvam Anna again who came to the rescue of the family with a devotional ‘Thevaram’ solution “He asked me to recite the ‘Avvanaikku Ivvanai’ verse and I was cured.”

He showcased to us that the Thevaram verses of the Saint Poets had a solution to every problem we encounter in life and that we need to look nowhere else.

Turning Point in his life
In 2008, Raja's appa approached Vilvam ‘Anna’ Vasudevan to initiate his son into the Thevaram verses. In those years, he was on a ‘Silent’ mode thrice a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday and on Pradhosham days. Raja was asked to start off with four lines from Manickavachakar's ‘Thiru Chadagam’ (Thiruvasagam) - Thiruvathavur. He craves for perfection and makes no compromises in life. He is particular on the correct ‘Uchcharippu’ and would not clear the verse otherwise. When he fumbled in the recital, he was asked to leave the then Nallappan street home of Vilvam Anna “I was almost in tears. It was just four lines in Tamizh. He rejected me and I was completely dejected.”

Raja came home and spent several hours not just learning those four lines but an additional 16 lines. He went back to Vilvam Anna and recited those 20 lines with such confidence that ‘he hugged me by the shoulder in front of Kapali. There was a delight in his eyes that I put in the effort and came out trumps.’

It was the turning point of his life. From that day, he began to learn the Thevaram verses as and when he had free time outside of his academics, initially and then his work in a corporate firm. 

A Big Moment at Avudayar Koil
A year later, there was a group that was to go from Mylapore to Thiru Perunthurai, Avudayar Koil but fate decided that Raja would go alone with Vilvam Vasudevan for Thiruvasagam Mutrothal  Raja shows to this writer a hand written note in his personal diary recording 21st February 2009 as one of the biggest days in his life. He dedicates that entirely to the selfless contribution of Vilvam Anna Vasudevan.

Several years later, a Shivan Adiyar at Avudayar Koil funded a sacred verses recording done by Raja and distributed several thousands of CDs to devotees.

Recite the Sacred Verses, Feel no Hunger 
In his Thirumozhi, Vaishnavite Saint Poet Periyazhvar says that all his life he has never starved for food even for a day. Even on days when he did not have food, he never felt hungry for he served as a true devotee of the Lord. If a day arises, when he is not able to chant sacred name of the Lord, then that will be the day of ‘Real Starvation’ for him. 

Raja recounts a similar experience of his years as a college student “On the off days in my college years, I would go to his house at 9am and start reciting the verses. As I sat beside him and began rendering the verses, hours ticked by but my mind was so devotionally attached that hunger never struck me. On most days, it was well past 1pm/2pm when Vilvam Anna would personally feed me with his hands. And then I would sit for another three hours with reciting the sacred verses. I realized when the mind is on God reciting these verses, time just flies and one does not feel the hunger.”

Vilvam Anna Vasudevan has stuck to a menu of ‘salt-less’ curd rice once a day. One has to eat to satisfy the hunger and not for the taste. He has followed that message from the scriptures over the last dozen years ‘The taste buds have gone long back’, he says. 

52 year old S Sasikumar, a businessman, is the other long time ‘student’ of Vilvam Anna Vasudevan. He recalls his experience at the Kapaleeswarar temple well over 15years ago “Like most devotees, I would come and chat around at the temple. While we did go into the Sannidhi to invoke the blessings of Swami and Ambal, a good part of our time at the temple was spent talking with people. He spotted me and handed me a book and asked me to read. And I was completely transformed and became his student.”
Sasikumar has been learning and reciting the sacred verses every evening at the Swami Sannidhi during the Artha Jaama Period for well over a decade. In the first couple of years of his initiation, Vilvam Anna spoke on select days in a week “In those early years, he provided great insights into different Thevaram temples, the relevance of the Naalvar’s verses at these temples and the contributions made by the 63 Nayanars and how we could learn from them and implement those messages in our daily lives.” 

Silence for one full year to cure a Child!!!
Once over a decade ago, when there was a serious health issue for a Kapaleeswarar devotee’s child, he took to ‘Silence’ for a full year invoking the blessings of the Lord through non-stop recital of the Thevaram verses. The child was cured!!!! And he decided this as a way of his life to relentlessly present the sacred verses and follow a ' Silent' path in life.

When devotees encountered Navagraha related issues and he could see the problem in their eyes, he would pick up select verses and hand it to them to recite “There have been several cases when we have seen with our own eyes as to how he has helped solve issues through the verses of the Saint Poets” says Sasikumar.

He recounts the respect the entire Thevaram temples fraternity have for him and cites his experience at the Chidambaram temple as an example ‘When I told them that I was a disciple of Vilvam Anna, the way they addressed me suddenly changed and the respect for me increased manifold!!!’

Not many are able to observe silence and still make a contribution to life. Vilvam ‘Anna’ Vasudevan is an exception. He has observed silence for over a decade and yet has earned the respect of the world as can be seen from the devotees addressing him at the Kapaleeswarar temple each day of the year. The Head Priest of the temple E Venkatasubramanian (Jayakanthan) Shivachariar (Jayakanthan Kapali) told this writer that even the HR & CE officials have high regard for him. He expressed surprise that Vilvam Vasudevan was sitting in front of the Vayilar Nayanar Sannidhi and was keen to get his recital back at the Swami or Ambal Sannidhi for there is a positive vibration when the sacred verses are presented by such holy men inside the Sannidhi.

When he spots a devotee facing a challenge, he immediately provides a ‘Thevaram’ Solution. He breathes these verses day and night and believes within himself that the sacred songs of the Saivite Saint Poets contains a solution to every problem that one encounters and that one can find an inner peace through its recital.

There is a spark in his eyes when he tells this writer that a 10 year old boy has just joined him this month to recite the Shiva Puranam along with him. There is another boy who is being initiated into Vishnu Sahasranamam.

For Raja, who is now learning the verses of Sundara Moorthy Nayanar (Vennai Nallur), it has been 13 long years since he was first initiated by Vilvam Anna Vasudevan. He asks if there has ever been an acharya in this world who has initiated a student for that long a period without speaking a single word and without taking a single rupee or non financial items as Sambhavanai. 
Vilvam Anna Vasudevan's mind is always on the Saint Poets and breathes the Thevaram Verses every minute of his life. Doing Parayanam continuously - Panniru Thirumurai, Vedas, Ramayanam, Bhagavatham and the Puranas- at the Kapaleeswarar temple, he says is his way of life. He is ever willing to initiate anyone into the Thevaram Verses, and is available seven days a week at the Kapaleeswarar Temple. If Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal bless, there will hopefully be several more disciples this decade who will learn and spread the messages from the sacred verses of the Saivite Saint Poets to the World at Large. 

Truly an exceptional 'Silent'' Personality.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Sundarar mediates between Karpagambal Kapaleeswarar

After a 2 1/2 hour Pallakku procession, a 'Big Fight' erupts between Karpagambal and Kapaleeswarar
Sundara Moorthy Nayanar mediates and brings them together again
The episode from Thiru Oodal Puranam was played out a day after the flag was brought down at the Panguni Brahmotsavam at Kapaleeswarar Temple, Mylapore
                                  Othuvar Vageesan

It all seemed fine with the grand Thiru Kalyanam on the tenth day of the Panguni Brahmotsavam at the Kapaleeswarar temple and Ravana Vahana procession led by Mukha Veena presentation on Sunday night (Ravana Kapaleeswarar panguni). 24 hours later as it so often happens with couples, Karpagambal made a strong protest to Kapaleeswarar holding the Ganga (a lady) secretly atop his head.

Collection day for the Sripatham
The day after the curtains come down on the Brahmotsavam is the one when,  during the Pancha Moorthy procession, the Sripatham make their collections for their 10day services. And it turned out to be a really long drawn one. While the procession on a simple pallakku started at 7.30pm on Monday evening, the return to the Chariot side did not take place till it struck 10pm. And when they did make it back, all of a sudden Karpagambal shot past Kapaleeswarar into the 16 Pillar Mandapam while he stayed back in shock near the Chariot at this sudden hasty retreat from his consort. 

Enactment of Thiru Oodal
Kapaleeswarar pulled in his friend and one of the four famous Saint Poets, Sundara Moorthy Nayanar (Thiru Vennai Nallur Sundarar), to check the reason for Ambal’s anger and to bring her back. For the next half hour or so, this historical episode was played out between the 16 Pillar Mandapam and the Chariot side with Sundarar going back and forth between Ambal and the Swami playing a conciliatory role.  Ambal reasoned that she had borne with patience many things in the past but this one of him having Ganga secretly in the head was unpardonable.  
Late on Monday evening, Othuvar Vageesan anchored the enactment reading out Ambal’s message to Kapaleeswarar and his defense to Ambal that he had tanned waiting in the hot sun. Finally Swami asks Sundarar to play out the Saama Vedam before Ambal to cool her down reasoning out that even Ravana did so after he was crushed under Mount Kailasa by his big toe.After three rounds, Ambal finally relented and made her way to the Chariot side to take her place beside Kapaleeswarar much to the delight of the small bunch of devotees who came specifically to watch the enactment of this episode. 

Head Priest E Venkatasubramanian Shivachariar said that many couples have come together after having darshan of the enactment of this episode at the Kapaleeswarar temple.

Shortly after 10.30pm, the Pancha Moorthy idols made their way into the temple.

At the Vaishnavite Divya Desam in Srirangam, a similar episode is played out in front of the Ranganayaki Thayar Sannidhi on the morning of Panguni Uthiram with Araiyars playing the mediatory role (Panguni Uthiram Debate).

Monday, March 29, 2021

Ravana Kapaleeswarar Panguni Procession

The peaceful Sunday night when the Ten Headed Lankan King Ravana carried Kapaleeswarar around the Mada Streets in Mylapore to the tunes of a sole ‘Mukha Veena’ 
A large part of the street processions over the first nine days of the Kapaleeswarar Panguni Brahmotsavam had been to the loud drum beats as well as the musical accompaniments of the Nagaswaram and Tavil. The last procession of the Utsavam on Sunday night was different in more ways than one. 

While the temple complex was packed during the Thiru Kalyana Utsavam at the specially decorated mandapam at the eastern entrance with not an inch for any devotee to enter or exit, the hours after provided for a very different experience. There was a quiet calm around the Mada Streets late into the night. A majority of the devotee crowd that witnessed the Thiru Kalyanam had dispersed. The vendors on the streets who made big business on this big day of the Utsavam were seen with happy faces even as they were winding up.  Almost all the shops around the Mada Streets had shut down. 
Thiru Kailaya Darshan
It was against this backdrop that Kapaleeswarar provided Gopura Vaasal darshan at 10.30pm on Sunday night. There were no loud beating of the drums that was symbolic of the street processions at this festival. With Ravana carrying Kapaleeswarar, his favourite instrument ‘Veena’ was played out as the only musical instrument of the procession with two artistes alternating around the four streets. It was easily one of the most peaceful processions of the Utsavam with select devotees enjoying the devotional rendering on the ‘Mukha Veena’. It almost seemed that they were stunned at watching the Great Lankan King Ravana carrying Sri Kapaleeswarar in a majestic 'silent' procession around the four Mada Streets.

Legend has it that Nandi stopped Ravana from flying over Kailasa as it was the sole abode of Shiva and Parvathi. When Ravana tried to lift Mount Kailasa, Lord Shiva placed his big toe on him and he lay crushed under the mountain. An ever ardent devotee of Shiva, Ravana sang verses (Saama Vedam) in praise of the Lord. Pleased with his prayers, Shiva and Parvathi are said to have provided darshan to him. 
This procession is considered a particularly sacred one for following the celestial wedding at the specially decorated Thiru Kalyana Mandapam, Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal are believed to provide a ‘Thiru Kailaya’ darshan.

Traditional Kolams and the Aarathi Thattu
The residents on the four Mada Streets are of course awake as they have been on all the nights of the procession. Even as Kapaleeswarar was to enter the South Mada Street, the entire street was decked with Pulli Kolams, another devotional feature of this Utsavam with young school going kids competing with one and another to welcome the Lord into their homes with their favourite Kolam of the night. The elders await,with the Aarathi Thattu and a coconut, the arrival of their favourite Lord. At the West end of the South Mada Street, with the full moon shining at its brightest and slowly inching her way on to the West, one priest hands over charge to another to manage the second half of the procession. 
After two and a half hours, Kapaleeswarar entered the Gopura Vaasal sharp at 1am and shortly after the curtains were brought down on the Panguni Brahmotsavam 2021 with a very tired looking Venkatasubramanian Shivachariar performing the sacred ritual. 
A number of devotees had been disappointed with the 'inside' temple- shortened version of the 2020 Brahmotsavam that took place in the first week of this month. But this one over the last ten days, coming as it has after two years, has turned out to be a mega event that has provided great devotional energy to several thousands of devotees, who turned out in large numbers unmindful of the Corona scare to seek the blessings of Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

JR Madanagopal International one dayer Fourth Umpire

Madanagopal makes international debut as Fourth Umpire in Ind v Eng One dayers, Set to get into IPL (on-field) this year

He is rated as one of the best umpires in India, will be part of the IPL Onfield Panel this year and am confident that he will do well - KS Viswanathan, CEO, CSK and former Hony Secretary, TNCA
It has been long due. 15 years after his BCCI debut as an umpire, former South Zone middle order batsman and now a top BCCI Umpire JR Madanagopal has finally made it to the international scene. He made his debut as a fourth umpire yesterday at the second one day international match between India and England in Pune. He will be a reserve umpire for the third and deciding one dayer to be played tomorrow (Sunday) at the same ground.

Two decades ago, Madanagopal was among the top run getters in domestic One Day Cricket. Following his retirement from cricket, he moved into umpiring a decade and a half ago. He made rapid strides in Umpiring in the initial years with an IPL call within the first two years of the launch of the IPL. However, he did not get the deserved chances over the last decade. He has recently once again broken into the BCCI Top 20 Umpires Panel. Exactly a year ago, he was to make it once again into the IPL as a fourth umpire but the national lockdown and the moving of the IPL into Dubai meant that only limited number of officials went into the bio bubble last year.

This call for the international matches just ahead of the IPL augurs well for him. 

Since the time he wrote the BCCI examination in 2006, KN Ananthapadmanabhan and Madanagopal, where they secured identical marks, have officiated together in many important matches. In 2016-17, the two of them officiated together in the Ranji Semi Final, a first for Madan. Ananthapadmanabhan (KN Anantha) had told this writer in 2016 that he and Madan were constantly engaged in intellectual discussions on umpiring over the last many years and they continue to do that to this day. Interestingly, once again, when Madan is making his entry as the fourth umpire in an international match, Ananthapadmanabhan is near side him ( as onfield / 3rd umpire).
Madan to be on field Umpire in IPL 
Nine Years ago, in 2012, KS Viswanathan, now CEO of CSK (KSV), had told this writer from Calcutta that Madanagopal was the best (first class) player turned umpire he had seen after the legendary S Venkataraghavan (Venkat@75)/ in the previous 15years. He told this writer today that Madanagopal will be part of the on field panel in the IPL this year “He is rated as one of the best umpires in India. Being a first class cricketer of repute, I am very confident that he will do very well in umpiring.”

Friday, March 26, 2021

Chokkanatha Swamy Domlur

The Oldest Perumal temple in Bangalore dates back to the rule of Raja Raja Chozha
Referred to as 'Chokka Perumal', the Saligrama Idol was installed at a high location with Sun's rays directly falling on the Lord in Feb-March and Sept-Oct

A Vedic Patshala near the temple regularly rolls out students in Agamas and historical stotras
In the infrastructural changes of the last 50 years, the oldest Chozha period Perumal temple in Bangalore has gone into obscurity into a small lane off the old Airport road. Historically, most of the Perumal temples in Karnataka have been along the banks of the Cauvery as seen from the temples in and around Srirangapatna (Srirangapatna), Talakadu (Talakkadu), Satyagala Madhya Rangam (Satyagala) and the like. However, this one in Bangalore was a rare exception built during the Chozha period on the Eastern outskirts.

As per inscriptions dating back to the rule of Raja Raja Chozha, this temple was located in ‘Tommaluru’ (now Domlur) belonging to Desa Manikka Pattinam of Yelahanka region. The main Saligrama deity was referred to as ‘Chokka’ Perumal. During the rule of Raja Raja Chozha, the rights of the temple land and right to perform consecration ceremony and archaka service was handed to Allala Nambiyar and his descendants. Lands were also donated for the maintenance of the temple. The sanctum and the artha mandapam seem to belong to the period of the Chozhas. Subsequently during the rule of the Hoysalas, donations were made for the conduct of the festivals. The exteriors of the temple bear endorsement of the style of the Vijayanagara rulers.
Moolavar at a high location facing East
Saptha Rishis performed penance at this location. Pleased with their prayers, Lord Vishnu directed them to install a deity of his at a high location facing East in a way to receive Cosmic Energy. A photo dating back to 1947 indicates the historical structure of the temple prior to the consecration of the 1980s after the restoration. The temple now bears no resemblance to the historical exteriors as seen just under 75years ago.
                      Historical Temple Structure in 1947

Sun’s rays on Chokka Perumal
Sun’s rays fall on the Lord in end of February – early March for 10 days and once again end of September early October for 10 days.
             Temple Structure after the Consecration in the 1980s

10 spots within the temple complex have been marked for Cosmic Energy, the only such temple in Bangalore. This has become so popular that devotees from far away Bidar and Gulbarga regularly visit this temple and stay here for Cosmic Energy. 

A Cellar
There was a cellar till recently where jewels of the Lord were kept in safe custody. This has been closed now but one can still find its location just outside the sanctum. 

Renovation in the 1970s/80s
In the mid 1970s, the devotees came together to renovate the temple and rebuilt the temple in the form and structure that we see today. Vinayaka and Hanuman Sannidhis have been recent additions. Abhisekam takes place for Vinayakar on Monday and Tuesday and Thirumanjanam for Hanuman on Tuesday and Saturday.  Every morning there is a homam at the temple between 630am and 730am.

Round the year Utsavams
Sundara Kandam Parayanam takes places at the temple during Vaikunta Ekadasi, Rama Navami and Navarathri. There is a special alankaram on each day of the Navarathri Utsavam with a street procession on Vijayadasami. Kalyana Utsavam too has become a regular feature at this temple of late and devotees have come to believe this as a Prarthana Sthalam where Chokka Perumal fulfills their wishes. 
As is the case with temples in Tamil Nadu, the Saturdays have become grand celebrations in Puratasi ( Kannada Shravanam month).  Every Saturday, following the Thirumanjanam, there is annadhanam for around 400 people. Every morning in margazhi, around 30 devotees present Thiruppavai at this temple at 5.30am. There is also a 78 day parayanam by Domlur Trustees – Lalitha Sahasranamam and Vishnu Sahasranamam. On the day following Rama Navami as well as on the fourth Saturday of Puratasi (Kannada Shravanam Month), Chokka Perumal along with Sri and Bhoo Devi Thayar provide darshan around the streets of Domlur on a Pallakku.  

Every February, a dance programme is organised inside the temple complex by the Karnataka Government Endowment at Heritage temples programme.

A Vedic Patshala
Balaji Bhattar, the current priest at the temple, is from a Vedic Patshala that is located two kilometers from this temple. Around 40students including from Hassan and Mandya are being initiated into agamas and stotras there. 

R Keshavachar is the hereditary archaka of the temple.

The temple is open from 6am-11am and 6pm-830pm. Contact: Balaji Bhattar @ 97414 54291

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Maravur Vedic Ramesh

From Thillaisthanam - All through the Rishabha Vahanam night in Mylapore
“என் பாதையில் ஆயிரம் தடுமாற்றம் வரலாம் - ஆனால் என் பயணம் தடம் மாறாது”
It is 3.30am on Wednesday (March 24) morning and the large Vedic Group that has been reciting Rig, Yajur and Saama Vedams at the Rishabha Vahanam street procession of the Kapaleeswarar Panguni Brahmotsavam stop half way into the South Mada Street and are asked by the leader of the pack to make their way into the Valleeswarar Temple for a short break. The Group calls this middle aged person to join them but he refuses instead preferring to walk all alone along the Pancha Murthy procession into the West Mada street (RK Mutt Road). He talks to no one over the next three and a half hours staying in peace with Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal. 

Maravur V Ramesh has come all the way from Thillaisthanam, Thiruvayaru (Thillaisthanam Neiyarappar) to be part of the Vedic Chanting on the Rishabha Vahanam night in Mylapore.

In the 1980s and early 90s, Ramesh learnt the Vedas at the Patshalas in Thiruvayaru, Thiruvanaikaval and Musuri. He has been a firm believer in a traditional way of life right from his childhood, thoughts initiated into him by his Vedic teachers early on in life. He does not eat ‘outside’ food. He also drinks only well water!!! These aspects have not gone down well in life with the World at Large and prospective brides have forever rejected him. At 46, he remains a bachelor.
With an elderly mother at home, he has spent the entire period of the Pandemic back in Thillaisthanam agraharam managing with Vedic Chanting at homams and temple consecrations whenever opportunities have come his way. 

He lives life his own way in the way he believes one should as his Whatsapp display indicates “என் பாதையில் ஆயிரம் தடுமாற்றம் வரலாம் -ஆனால் என் பயணம் தடம் மாறாது”

He is hoping that more Vedic opportunities will come his way once the Corona scare is out. For the moment, soon after the Yajur Vedam presentation at the Kapali Brahmotsavam, he is headed to Kanchipuram where he expects to spend a few days before returning to Thillaisthanam.


Saturday, March 20, 2021

KR Rajagopal Dashing Opener Brilliant Wicket Keeper 1960s

After an extraordinary start to the domestic season in 1967 and considered a certainty for the Australia tour,  the man from ‘Kakkadasam’ was ‘DECLARED OUT’ twice in succession – first LBW after edging a glance on to his pad in the Duleep Trophy final and then even more shockingly as ‘medically unfit with a heart ailment’ just ahead of selection

If people remember me today as a cricketer from that golden era, the entire credit goes to KSN and N Sankar- Rajagopal 

Once swarmed by fans and teammates alike, the Octogenarian, who Jolly Rovers' N Sankar considered his all time favourite batsman, is seeing a vast deterioration in health and living a loner’s life in Banashankari

In the 1950s, as a school boy just into cricket, he did not have money to buy whites. His parents did not know he was into cricket till the day he was to make a trip to Madras from Bangalore. He batted in the 1960s in a way like no other and kept brilliantly to Prasanna and Chandrasekar for Mysore and to Venkataraghavan (Venkat@75) and VV Kumar for Madras. Crowds flocked in thousands to watch him bat, especially at Chepauk and Marina. While he was not a man of numbers, he, in the form of his life, scored over 800runs in first class cricket in a season and was on the verge of being on the plane to Australia in 1967 until much to his shock he was ‘certified’ as having a heart ailment and termed ‘medically unfit’ to last five days of a test match. It was that ‘heartless’ certificate that broke his ‘cricketing heart’ and he was never the same cricketer again. Here is the story of the Octogenarian who forever will remain a fan’s darling cricketer.

Humble beginnings - To a Govt School 
KR Rajagopal (Raja to his friends in the cricketing circle) did the early part of his schooling in a remote Government school. His father, KV Ramanujachar, who hailed from Kakkadasam, a village near Hosur, was an accountant at the AG’s office. Cricket was nowhere on the family radar. When he moved into Bangalore High School, he quietly took to cricket and joined the team as an opening batsman and wicket keeper. He was academically good and secured high marks that left his parents (his mother- Komalamma- was from Chengalpet) blissfully unaware of his cricketing pursuits. The next decade and a half was to be a glorious period in his cricketing life that he cherishes to this day as he reminisces with this writer at his home in ITI colony, Banashankari his hey days in cricket and the shocking treatment meted out to him.

Blows away opposition as a teenager 
As a teenager, he played two knocks that were early indication of the extraordinary batting ability. Rajagopal blasted almost a century before lunch that stunned his team mates as well as the opposition. It was against a visiting team from Madras whose bowling attack included Murugesh, considered a top bowler of the time. When the puny boy was back in the dressing room for the luncheon break, his captain and legendary fast bowler G Kasturi Rangan asked him if he knew the greatness of the opposition bowlers. The young boy’s answer was simple “I do not know their background and do not want to know. I played as I received and struck the ball as I saw it.”

The captain and his teammates were dumbfounded with his sharp response but that was to be his style of play all through the next decade. In both, batting as well as keeping and much later his captaincy, he was instinctive but it was driven by a great understanding of his own abilities and what he was capable of. The opposition names simply did not matter to him.

Rajagopal is hardly able to move freely these days and bears no resemblance to what he was even a couple of years ago but his memory is still able to recollect the practice during his school and intermediate days in the 1950s "I started to play cricket in 1952 and used to practice near Madhavan Park and at the Vokkaliga Sanga Ground."

One of a Kind Opening Bat
Former Ranji Cricketer 85year old R Chandrasekaran (RC SBI) was part of the strong all India SBI outfit in the 1960s and took over a 100 wickets in a season as an offspinner. He recalls a match when Bangalore boy Rajagopal took them by storm “I took the BRC team to Bangalore and met Raja for the first time as a collegiate cricketer. He scored a brilliant century against us. You did not see teenagers from that generation play that kind of a knock. As an opener, the trend was to defend and see off the new ball. But he was different and a one of a kind of a cricketer even then in the 1950s. His stroke play was scintillating and we did not know what hit us that day. Having seen him then, it was no surprise to me that he emerged the kind of opener he did in the 60s.”
Big Double Hundreds in College
By the end of the decade, he had made a fair progress both in academics as well as in cricket. He joined the NIE (National Institute of Engineering), Mysore for the Electrical Engineering course. While he did well in academics backed by a set of high quality professors who saw his potential in cricket and took good care of him, the phase was marked by top notch performances on the cricket field that saw him catapult into the next level. He captained a rather un-fancied college team with no big names to victories in inter collegiate tournaments. His two double hundreds made the entire cricketing fraternity in Karnataka look up and take notice. On the back of his collegiate performances, he also made it the Varsity team along with EAS Prasanna.

In the first division league in Bangalore, he played for ‘Bangalore Cricketers’ under the captaincy of  Kasturi Rangan. The star studded team that included players such as S Natarajan, N Sadhashivam ( who Rajagopal counts as amongst his closest friends) and fast bowler HT Baskar Rao, won almost all the trophies for many years in the late 1950s and 60s with Rajagopal being a star performer for them. Financial challenges remained throughout his childhood and he never had the money to spend on a cricket kit be it a batting or a keeping glove. His team mates of the time remember him wearing the same whites for many matches and entering the ground in canvas shoes. For the matches during his Engineering years, he boarded the unreserved compartment in the train from Mysore to reach Bangalore and returned in an unreserved coach thus spending minimal amount of money.

I need an auto to get the ball back
Playing at one of the High School grounds (there were three of them next to each other) which were rectangular in size, teenaged Rajagopal would belt the ball so hard that it would often go into the other grounds "Once Raja Raghavan fielding at Mid off was so tired chasing and bringing back the ball that he ordered his captain to organise an auto when Rajagopal was batting so he could and pick up the ball that went into the other two grounds" recalls K Baradwaj, a top order batsman for Vivekananda College and Madras University in the late 1950s and early 60s and one of Rajagopal's closest friends of a match recalls of that match the college team played there. 

The early Ranji years – Back to back centuries
He was not yet 21 and still at NIE when he made his Ranji debut for Mysore with a knock of 76 against Hyderabad. But it was his century against Hyderabad at Fateh Maidan a couple of years later that had even the opposition gasping for breath. He matched Subramanyam stroke for stroke in his first century for Mysore. Within the next fortnight, he had scored another Ranji hundred. 

Century on Debut with one hand, for ITI 
Soon after becoming an Engineer, he was roped in by Indian Telephone Industries, Bangalore in 1963. Given the financial scenario in the family, this first job was a big development in his life and was particularly pleasing to his parents. During his short stint at ITI, he bought a plot of land at Banashankari, on loan, which he repaid later.  Decades later, he built an independent house on that plot and has been living there for the last 25years. 
Handsome looking Rajagopal with his ITI captain Frank

In over ten years of cricket in Karnataka starting from his high school days, he had the least protection as a keeper and would often keep and bat with fractured fingers. He recalls one such match soon after joining ITI “Batting the earlier week, I had fractured my left hand and it was completely in a plaster. It was the week I joined ITI and was to be my debut match. It was a prestigious one for it was against the highly fancied SBI. My captain Frank was disappointed that I would not be able to play. When I saw the disappointment writ large on his face, I surprised him and nodded my presence at the match. He could not believe and thought I was a fool to play with a broken hand. But I was serious. I opened the innings, scored a century with one hand and we won the match.”

It was not a one off incident. His career was replete with tales of him playing with fractured fingers and scoring blistering centuries and pulling off brilliant catches or stumping behind the wicket.

In the late 1950s and early 60s, he kept up to the stumps to G Kasturi Rangan with torn gloves “Once Subbu asked me to go to the hospital after a serious finger injury. I asked him to help put the gloves back in my hands and continued, and scored a century with a fractured finger. Cricket always came first and till the time I played, I gave my life for the team.”

Keeping to Magician Chandra
While he showed glimpses of his stroke play every now and then for Mysore, it was his keeping to the two greats (Prasanna and Chandra) that was the highlight of those early Ranji years. He recalls the moments of keeping to Chandrasekar “I was blessed to keep to ‘magician’ Chandra. Alongside VV Kumar, keeping to Chandra was the ‘most challenging’ in my career. The ball would bounce on to your face and turn either way or not turn at all. He was everything. You would go nuts trying to understand him.”
With Mysore team mate Erapalli Prasanna

An Extraordinary Human Being
Talking to this writer from Bangalore, legendary off spinner Erapalli Prasanna has the highest words of praise for Rajagopal “I knew Raja from the time he was a school boy in Bangalore. We both played together for several years at School, College, University and for the State. He was not only a great batsman and wicket keeper, I found him to be an extra ordinary human being as well.”

Bids goodbye to Mysore with a scintillating knock
Just a few months before his move to Madras, he bid goodbye to Mysore with an unforgettable knock. His scintillating 97 in the Ranji Semi Final against Rajasthan probably left the Bangalore fans wanting more of Rajagopal. 

The move to Madras
In 1966, India Cements made a big cricketing move that was to transform the way cricket was played in Madras. S Rangarajan of The Hindu, uncle of Ranji Cricketer K Balaji (K Balaji The Hindu) had run the team for a year. And then VA Parthasarathy approached KS Narayanan (KSN) and asked if would be interested to run Jolly Rovers. Once he took the call, he decided that it would be the best and roped in cricketers from different states. Rajagopal was in a secure job when this offer came from India Cements in the summer of 1966. Mandalam Subramanyam suggested Rajagopal's name to KS Raman who then discussed this cricketer with KSN and N Sankar.

It was not a done thing in those days to quit a Government job but both the finances (his salary was doubled) and the prospects of greater exposure with a number of tournaments in Madras led him to accept the offer from India Cements. At the time it was still untested waters but he took a calculated decision to shift to another state, one that was not taken to politely by the fans of Mysore as he was to find later when he returned to the city. 

The moment he landed in Madras, he became an instant hit and very soon attained star status in the city. While he took great delight in keeping to Prasanna and Chandrasekar, it was Jolly Rovers and Madras where he really garnered a huge following. Fans flocked in large numbers to watch him bat.

Thiruvallikeni crowd
Having played from the 1950s at Marina, he considers playing on the beach side ground as his most favourite in cricket “The people of Thiruvallikeni were highly knowledgeable. They would swarm the ground on the morning of the match. The gallery next to the pavilion would be packed and there would be a buzz with several hundreds of them standing on the beach side. It was an extraordinary experience playing in front of them as they cheered every shot. Owners, KSN and N Sankar too would be in the pavilion closely watching every move of ours. The expectation was very high and you took great pleasure in rising up to the occasion. We played several high profile matches there including the most (in)famous one when we were jeered off the field.”

80 year old Najam Hussain (Najam@80), who played alongside him for almost 15years right from his teenage years first for Mysore Juniors, then Ranji cricket for Mysore and finally for Madras and Jolly Rovers, recalls his captain Raja’s sharp cricketing brain from that Buchi Babu semi final in Marina “When the dominating Polly Umrigar was batting, he brought KS Vaidhyanathan into short leg and the very next ball the leg cutter that I bowled was promptly pushed by Polly into Vaidhy’s hands. It was an amazing piece of captaincy, one that swung the fortunes of the match.”
Of course, the crowd at Marina were keen to see ACC in the final and Rajagopal operating B Kalyanasundaram and Najam Hussain and slowing things down in the rain affected match did not go down well with them and they booed the players off the field as the match ended in a draw with ACC tantalizing short of the target (the next morning Rajagopal won the 'spin of the coin' at Chepauk and Jolly Rovers was through to the final).

Rajagopal remembers the simplicity of the father and son, and their ‘fanatic’ interest in promoting cricket and cricketers in Madras “As you know, Marina had a very small pavilion. Unmindful of that, both KSN and Sankar sat there next to the players and motivated us through the match. The top management presence was a big boost to us and we wanted to give it our best in front of them. When the crowd almost chased us in anger and began pelting stones, the two of them organised cars for all the players and ensured that each one of us were dropped home. It was just an amazing gesture. They were totally thrilled when we won the final beating a strong State Bank side.”
The Electrical Engineer’s commitment to work
While he thrilled fans on the field with his dashing stroke play, he was totally committed to his employer and worked alongside S Venkataraghavan at the Nandambakkam Foundry of India Cements in his first year in Madras. Cricket was his first love and passion but giving his best at the work place was never compromised all through his career. Once, completely unmindful of an important Ranji match the next morning, he worked through the night. When KS Narayanan came at around 8.30am, he found Rajagopal still working “Immediately he directed my release and organised a car for me to Chepauk to be in time for the toss” recalls Rajagopal of that morning.

For long, Baradwaj, who worked in India Cements for 37 years from 1966, played host to Rajagopal at his home on TTK (Mowbrays) road.  He used to accompany Rajagopal for many of the matches both in Madras as well as outside and has known him inside out. 
Sitting at his home in Koramangala, the 78 year old told this writer on Raja's exploits in that phase “Raja was staying far off in Nandambakkam closer to the foundry. On many occasions, he would come home on the night before the match, have a quick wash and breakfast in the morning before leaving for the ground. Chepauk, Marina or Vivekananda was lot closer to my place and he found it comfortable to leave from here.”

Absent minded but merciless on the bowlers
Baradwaj says that Raja batted in a period when protective equipments were of poor quality “A strike on your fingers would result in a fracture. The pads were heavy and would turn direction as you ran a quick single or two. The buckle in the strap would often poke your ankle as you ran. The bats were oiled and ‘seasoned’ but it had no power. When one played the drive, one often felt a shock in the hand.” 

“Raja cared for no protection and was absent minded in these aspects. He had a carefree attitude and was an unassuming fellow. On most occasions, he would close his eyes and pick a bat from the kit and end up with a century. He played on canvas shoes!!!! He was a puny fellow and one wondered how he could play such shots. He used the bat almost like a magic wand. Raja was all timing and technique. While he was a great gentleman off the field, he was merciless on the bowlers on the field.”

“Many a time, his legs would be swollen after he took a blow from a fastish ball. Once he played a swashbuckling knock and came back after two hours to realize that he had not worn the abdomen guard that day!!! Bowlers or grounds did not matter to him. In a match at Vivekananda College, where the outfield was thick with grass, he had the IOB fielders chasing the ball all over the park as  he unleashed his scorching drives.”

A ‘Spring in his steps’
The youngest of the famous ‘Singh’ Trio, AG Satvinder Singh was at the other end during many of Rajagopal’s sparkling knocks and a few times at the receiving end (as seen below)!! He recalls Dabbar’s (that is how a few of the teammates used to jokingly call him) presence at the wicket “While he was not pre determined and played the ball on its merit, there was certainly a ‘spring in his steps’.  He was waiting for the ball to be released so he could spank it to the fence.  While he was a gentleman off the field, he would not spare anyone while we were fielding. If someone was not up to the mark, he would be the first one to express his displeasure. He was very passionate about the game and a complete team man.”
The Famous 'Singh' Trio
Sumptuous Lunch
Satvinder remembers a special habit of Rajagopal during the lunch break “While most of us preferred to eat light, he was different. He often surprised us during the luncheons. He would eat big, get back to the crease and smash the bowlers all around the park.” 

The CEO Fan hands him a free Royal Enfield Bike
‘Ayya’ SR Subramanian (son of Sundaram Iyer) of Royal Enfield had become a big fan of Rajagopal after having watched him bat in 1966. When he heard that this Ranji cricketer was taking a bus from Nandambakkam to Chepauk and returning by bus after the nets every evening, he called him over and told him that he should focus on his cricket and not be taking the strenuous journey by bus every day “He handed me the keys of a Royal Enfield bike, almost free, and asked me to go to the ground on the bike. I was simply stunned at this remarkable gesture”. Rajagopal found it a great honour for 'Ayya' to personally meet him and hand this over to him.

It is another matter that he struggled to ride the bike. Baradwaj recalls the 'light weighted' Raja mishandling the heavy bike “Initially he found it difficult to ride the bike. It was too heavy for him. It was a challenge to even pull up the center stand. Most of the days, he would park at my house with the side stand. Over time, he got used to it and began to enjoy those rides on the Royal Enfield bike.”

1967 - (Un)Forgettable Year in Cricket
After a sedate first season for Madras, he began his second in the August of 1967 in a manner that had not been seen hitherto of a TN opener. He started off with back to back centuries against Kerala and Hyderabad.  He considers the match against Hyderabad at Chepauk in the first week of September as one of his best, for multiple reasons. He came straight off the Nandambakkam foundry to score a century on the first day of the match and that gave him great satisfaction, for KSN had personally directed his release and organised a car for him to be at Chepauk just in time for the start of the match. But what made this match even more memorable for Rajagopal was his blistering display in the second innings "We required 65 to win and were battling against time.  We lost a couple of wickets, but I went after the chase and secured an unlikely win in just over 10overs with an unbeaten 41."

Those were not days when you heard of teams chasing a target at six runs an over but Rajagopal’s display in that last innings chase showed that he was no normal cricketer and way ahead of his time.

Even MAK Pataudi was shell shocked
Baradwaj who was present at the match recounts Raja often jumping out to Govindraj and driving him through a packed offside field “Through that innings, one saw MAK Pataudi clapping after every stroke that went past him in the covers. Those moments are ever green and still fresh in my eyes.”  

Booed by the Bangalore Crowd
In the next match, he returned to the Central College Ground in Bangalore for the first time after his move to Madras. His experience until then had been of him being a favourite with the crowd. For the first time in his life, he found them going against him and was shocked with the treatment meted out to him by the crowd that clearly expressed their displeasure at his move to Madras. Baradwaj travelled to this match as well specifically to watch Raja bat “It was almost like a test match setting with big stars on both sides. The crowd of 5000 plus was partisan. Even as he entered the ground, they booed him. Everyone there was making a big hue and cry about him having left Mysore for Madras. Much to their delight he was out for a duck in the first innings. And then they booed him all the way back to the pavilion. I was right up there. He was totally annoyed with their attitude and broke a few cool drink bottles in the dressing room.”

Madras had been bowled out cheaply and conceded a big first innings lead. Mysore declared its second innings setting Madras a 260 plus target that in those days was rarely chased and definitely not against Prasanna and Chandrasekar. Ofcourse, he had just effected a terrific chase in the previous match but that was a smallish target.

Tearing apart Chandra and Pras
Baradwaj recalls the events of the last day “You would not give any team in India a chance with that kind of a chase on the final day against Chandra and Pras on their home turf. But Raja came back with a vengeance. He was hurting inside for he had grown up there and given everything for Mysore for over a decade from his school days. He tore everyone apart including Chandrasekar and Prasanna in a blistering knock of 78 that silenced the crowd.”

Satvinder Singh was the one who saw off the run chase with an unbeaten 72 in a match winning partnership with Najam Hussain. He recalls that innings of Rajagopal on the final day “It was Raja who started off the chase by setting the right tempo and provided us the impetus with a flurry of pulls and drives against YB Patel, Chandra and Pras.”

Around the country to watch ‘Raja’ play
When Rajagopal moved to Madras in 1966, he set the city grounds ablaze with his dashing stroke play. 1967 was a special year as he was in the form of his life. It was the year when N Sankar returned to Madras from the US and his presence at the ground had a big positive impact on Rajagopal. He was at his explosive best that season as he tore apart every single bowling attack that came his way. He began with two Ranji Trophy centuries and followed it up with a match winning fourth innings knock against Mysore against two top bowlers. Picked in the South Zone team for the Duleep Trophy, he struck two half centuries against Central Zone.  He was also included in the Rest of India team for the Irani Trophy match. 

The Octogenarian recalls Sankar’s trip to Bangalore and Bombay “It is unlikely one would have heard of a corporate chief travelling 400kms to watch his club cricketer play a domestic match and then another 2000kms to motivate him in another match, staying the full length of the multi day match in both instances. He was so passionate about the game and saw his club players as one from his own family. Every time we performed, we saw his eyes light up in delight and that spurred us to perform even better. For him to come and watch me play in Bangalore and Bombay was simply unthinkable. His presence was great inspiration for me and I wanted to showcase myself in front of him to make his trips worthwhile.”

In the Duleep Trophy final that was supposed to be a big match for him against West Zone, he encountered a shock that he remembers distinctly 53 years later with a lot of sadness, on the way the game was played in India at that time and the West - South divide. 

He recounts to this writer the dreadful period that paradoxically coincided with his best ever phase in cricket “I was batting for South Zone against West Zone and up against the fast bowling stars in Ramakant Desai and Surti. In just the second over, when I edged a leg glance to a ball from Surti that was going down leg, much to my shock the umpire lifted his finger. When the same umpired officiated in Calcutta later, he came up to me on his own and apologized.”

‘It was all planted. I could not do anything’ Rajagopal remembers the Umpire telling him.

In the first week of November, he came up again against Ramakant Desai and played another top knock for ROI against Bombay in the Irani Trophy match scoring 49 with N Sankar watching from the stands.

Certified ‘Medically Unfit’
He had been a top run getter in that first phase of the domestic season and these knocks earned him an entry into the pre selection camp (for the Australia tour) at Khadakwasla (Pune). Everyone was impressed with his stroke play. He was considered a certainty for the Aussie tour.

“Players from Bombay did not allow those from Madras to flourish pointing to the cases of AG Milkha Singh and AG Kripal Singh. We had to fight against all odds. Everything was stacked against cricketers from Madras. After having scored all those runs in the domestic circuit and having done well at the camp in Pune, they found an innovative way to throw me out. They got the doctors to certify me as ‘medically unfit’ with a heart ailment. And here I am still alive 53 years later doing things all on my own.”

Just under three decades later, Rajesh Kannan, a former YMCA (TSR) team mate of this writer underwent similar experience in Tamil Nadu. He too was DECLARED medically unfit when he was on the verge of selection for TN to accommodate another player. If he had known India’s cricketing history, he would have taken comfort from the fact that he was not the first one to be declared medically unfit by the selectors when he was hale and healthy. 25 years later, that medical certification continues to hurt this now BCCI umpire (Rajesh Kannan).
Baradwaj remembers that month ahead of the Aussie tour “In that camp, he hooked Umesh Kulkarni for a six off the first ball. In those days, openers were supposed to take the shine of the new ball. But Raja took the leather off the ball. After they watched him bat in the camp, they were very impressed with what they saw. Everyone knew he was a certainty for the tour. And then the unthinkable happened.”

“He was very upset and felt insulted. There was the North/West and South (Madras) divide.  Every effort was made to keep ‘Madrasis’ away.”

Baradwaj recalls a personal conversation AG Kripal Singh had with in the 1960s “In a match where he was unbeaten on 95 at tea, he overheard a conversation between Umrigar and Vijay Manjrekar in Marathi where the former asked the latter to run his partner out soon after tea. Kripal knew multiple languages and he was shocked at what transpired during the tea interval.”

Najam too was with his childhood teammate through that troubling period “It is a pity he did not play for India. He would have loved the bouncy wickets in Australia and it would have suited his back foot play. The person who was taken in his place (Prince Inderjith Singhji!!) was a shadow of Raja.”
Raja in a non keeper's role for Madras - takes a catch 

In Prime Form and Pink of Health
“I used to prevail upon PK Belliappa to allow Raja to keep for Madras that would have further boosted his chances of India selection. Not only was he in prime form, he was also in the pink of health. He was simply toying with the best of bowlers that season. He was as fit as it gets. He was a talent waiting to be tapped and raring to go that year. Any side would have been lucky to have him. He performed extraordinarily with both the big gloves and the small. India missed out on one great cricketer.”

TNCA did not back him 
SBI’s off spinner R Chandrasekar, who has been running league teams in Madras and a former Treasurer of the TNCA, forged a long term friendship with Rajagopal that has now lasted over six decades. From the 1980s, he has written several official letters to the BCCI pointing to the wrongs in Indian Cricket. He says there was lot more to it than meets the eye in Raja’s case “He has been a fine gentleman all through this life and rarely complained. He should have toured Australia with the Indian team, but the TNCA did not back him for reasons known to everyone at that time!!”

With Sankar on the day of the announcement
Sankar (Sanmar N Sankar)  recalls the exact words of Rajagopal from that day “When the announcement came, he was shell shocked. He had performed in three different tournaments and he was almost unstoppable that year. He was so down that he simply said to himself ‘Po Da, neeyum cricket um’. He almost packed off the cricket kit that day.”

Best Century
The politics of cricket killed Raja’s heart. But he was not done with yet, that season. A month after being omitted from the Indian squad, he scored what he calls as one of his best centuries. In the Quarter Final in January 1968, when he should probably have been batting for India at Brisbane, he made a 2nd innings century (after a half century in the first innings) against MP at Chepauk that Satwendar remembers distinctly “He was still batting when I went into bat at No. 6. We were in trouble in the 2nd innings having lost four early wickets. We put on a century stand and helped Madras recover. He went on to make 154, one of the best innings that I have seen. His batting was always a delight to watch, more so that day. Fast or slow, inswing or outswing, off spin or leg spin – nothing mattered to him. He simply did not care who the bowler was. He was in prime form that season and almost unstoppable.” 
                      Hooking Tony Grieg

Hamerring Surendranath at Chepauk
Sankar remembers the semi final played at Chepauk in the first week of February 1968 "Services' Surendranath was a former Test player who had performed well for India but to Raja names simply did not matter. When he came on to bowl with the new ball, Raja, much to Surendranath's shock, came down the pitch and belted him away. I still remember Surendranath standing in mid pitch and staring at Raja. It is unlikely anyone would have treated Surendranath the way Raja did that day."

Later that month, playing for Madras CM’s XI against an International XI, he played a famous hook off Tony Grieg, a photograph of which he cherishes to this day. He showed glimpses of his stroke play that day against Geoff Arnold and Grieg in his knock of 35 and how he may have belonged in that top bracket. In 1969, towards the end of his first class career, he played another scintillating knock for MCC President’s XI against Ceylon in Trichy. He continued to play Ranji cricket and sizzled once in a while.

Cricketer of the Year – Too little Too late
In 1967-68, he won the best cricketer of the year award but that was too little too late. He remembers his name on the player's board at Chepauk. The year saw both the high and low for Rajagopal “If I had made the tour to Australia, my cricketing life would have taken a different turn. Once I was not picked on such a flimsy ground, much against the truth, I decided to focus on my job. Sankar was the big inspiration. He was there in the stands every match that year and made trips exclusively for me. As I took guard at the crease and watched him in the stands, I was greatly motivated and took pleasure in playing my strokes freely in front of him. He wanted me to continue and try again. I had worked really hard that year but after all the performances in that early part of the season, I felt merit had taken a back seat and it was unlikely things would change anytime soon.”

Even in the most challenging of moments in life, Rajagopal looks back at his life and proudly says that he never asked for a favour from anyone. 

My Guiding light behind the stumps
Legendary leg spinner VV Kumar (VV Kumar) credits Rajagopal with guiding him in important moments “I found him to be a gifted batsman with a strong back foot play. After he came to Madras and with the huge exposure he got here, he developed his game to a great extent. I have not seen a wicket keeper like him. His leg side gathering was a visual treat. He made keeping look so easy. It may be difficult for anyone to believe now but he would anticipate and go to short leg to pick up catches. Not only was he a brilliant glove man, he also studied the wicket and the batsman’s movements. There were many occasions when he assessed the batsman’s footwork and gave sharp insights that helped me pick wickets. I was lot more confident in my bowling when Raja kept wickets. He was my guide when I bowled.”
Another Madras Cricketer gets the Selector’s Snub
“In that phase, in the late 1960s, he was as good as any opener in India. As we were all together at the start of that season in September and October of 1967 moving from one city to another, we all felt he was an automatic choice for the Australia tour on the back of his big scores and the form he was in at that time. He was simply milking the bowling. But like with so many Madras cricketers before (and after) him, he too was snubbed by the selectors. His ‘wicket keeper’ replacement for that tour was nowhere as talented or performing as Raja. The Selectors’ choice of leaving Raja out was laughable. It had a big bearing on him and he was never the same again after that. It just dented his confidence.”

Hat Trick man Kalyanasundaram (Kalli) echoes VV Kumar’s sentiment “I have not seen a better wicket keeper bat than Raja.” 

Half way down the pitch!!!
A decade and a half later, middle order south paw R Madhavan (Madhavan@60) faced the same treatment from the selectors. Almost similar to Rajagopal in 67, Madhavan scored runs aplenty and century after century in 1984 that also included one against David Gower’s England. And he too like Rajagopal was never the same again after not being picked.

R Madhavan dismisses any comparisions with Rajagopal, who he calls a genius "No shoes, No gloves, No bat.  Arrive on the morning of the match from Tirunelveli. Borrow everything, Smash everybody and return the next day to Tirunelveli to work. He was a genius at the crease. He had no feet, only wheels."
Madhavan was a teenager when he played in an inter districts match for Chengalpet against Rajagopal's Tirunelveli. He has great memories of Rajagopal's batting from that match "He would be half way down the wicket before I bowled. And later in the match when I came down the pitch and drove the ball, he offered a big smile of appreciation."

"He hooked off the front foot even in those days, something Ponting did 40 years later."

‘Stumps’ the bowler and the batsman
While he was a stroke filled opening batsman who put the opposition new ball bowlers to sword soon after play was called, as a keeper he did things on the field that stumped not just the opposition batsman but also his own teammates and the bowler. Kalyanasundaram recalls one such instance “As I turned back at the top of my bowling mark, I found him standing up to the stumps. No fast bowler likes a keeper standing up and I asked him to go back. But typical of him he stood his ground and said ‘Nee podu daa’. And the very next ball, as the ball passed the batsman, he removed the bails in a flash to send the batsman on his way. He assessed every batsman and acted accordingly. He was a highly thinking cricketer and had a pulse of both the batsman and the bowler.”
Baradwaj says that people talk about MS Dhoni and his innovative way of keeping. Raja did that over 60 years ago. To balls down the leg, he would catch with his left hand and to those pitched outside off, he would hold with the right hand. The quality of the gloves was poor in those days. By the end of the day, he would have bruised fingers and palms but he did not drop a catch or miss a stumping. 

Wicket Keeping Genius
The above incident relating to Kalli is fresh in Baradwaj’s memory “When former Madras University player R Ravichandran was stumped off Kalli by Raja standing up to the stumps, the batsman was flabbergasted and almost refused to leave the pitch. He simply could not believe that a keeper could effect a stumping of Kalli who was really quick in those years. Sometimes he almost looked like a clown in the way he took calls behind the stumps but he was astonishingly brilliant.”

“People came in large groups just to watch him bat. And they would cheer every shot of his.  He was a batting genius. You had to see him to believe what a genius he was with a bat in hand.  And he was a wicket keeping master class and a genius at work with the bigger gloves as well.”

That was not the only occasion he surprised the bowler and the batsman. Satwendar Singh recounts his own dismissal in a match against Jolly Rovers at Chepauk “After I got through the swing of KS Kannan, I faced up to George Thomas. He was really quick but there was Raja standing up to the stumps. Obviously, he had spotted my tendency to lift my back leg. As the fast in-swinger went down the leg, he removed the bails in a fraction of a section and I was on my way. He was outstanding especially down the leg.”

While he counts keeping to BS Chandrasekar and VV Kumar as his most challenging, Rajagopal says he also has fond memories of standing up to great fast bowlers such as G Kasturi Rangan, Mysore and B Kalyanasundaram, Madras.

The Captaincy Years
After he retired from Ranji Cricket, he continued to play for Jolly Rovers for a few years in the 1970s by when he had moved from the Foundry in Madras to the Plant in Tirunelveli. Kalli considers him as one of the best captains he played under “In a match, I had already bowled 10overs at a stretch and went up to Raja and asked if I could take a break. Pat came his reply in his typical chirpy way “Am I the captain or you? I know when to take you off. The ball is still thudding into my gloves and my palms are paining. You are still generating pace and continue to ball.”
Can we take a Nellikkai, Please?
59 year old S Dhandayuthapani, currently a GM at NBFC Sundaram Finance Ltd, spent his entire childhood at Sankar Nagar, residing a few hundred yards away from Rajagopal’s independent house there. His father worked at the Sankar Nagar plant for several decades. He remembers those years from the early 1970s “Rajagopal had a huge garden in his house and the tall Nellikkai tree was distinctive. As young school boys, we would often ask for Nellikkai. Just as he was in cricket, he was courteous and friendly to all of us and we would take the Nellikkai in bunches. He showed no glimpses of the star status he had attained by then with his cricketing success.”
Tirunelveli’s Darling - A People’s man
While he was a soft spoken person off the field, Dhandayuthapani remembers his fireworks on the ground “On the field, he was the one cricketer all of us in Tirunelveli went to watch. On the days he batted, it seemed that almost the entire Tirunelveli was at the ground. He provided the fireworks and rarely disappointed the fans. He seemed to have a certain aura and when he came to bat, it seemed that everyone became cheerful. He brought positive energy in the minds of the people of Tirunelveli leaving one to wonder if this was really possible of a cricketer. He was the Srikkanth of the late 1960s and early 70s and had a huge fan following there. He was a people’s man.”

KS Raman's reward to Raja for breaking his car's glass
He recalls the challenge KS Raman used to throw up to Raja in those matches at Tirunelveli "KS Raman would park his car outside the boundary and challenge Rajagopal to break the car glass with his big sixers. The family loved him so much that each of them wanted him to succeed all the time and would motivate him in many different ways."

Najam says that Rajagopal remained a simplistic fellow “Despite the star status he had gained through his delightful stroke play and brilliant keeping, he had no airs about himself. He was such a simple fellow that even as a Ranji Cricketer he would wrap his shoes in a paper and take it to the ground.”
Tirunelveli to the Middle East
After a decade and a half at India Cements, he sought permission from KSN and N Sankar to go to Kuwait as the HOD Maintenance with the Kuwait Electrical Board- Power Station from where he had received an irresistible offer “KSN gave me a blanket offer to join them back anytime I wanted. That was the generosity shown by KSN and Sankar. They really cared for the cricketers.”

Similar to his cricketing days, he went through highs and lows in the Middle East and in 1990 had to return to India empty handed following the outbreak of the Iran – Iraq war. He came back to Muscat where he worked as a Chief Maintenance Engineer at the Power Station for three years. And he hung his professional boots as well, just as early as he had his cricketing canvas shoes. He retired at the age of 53 and has been in Bangalore for over 25 years now.

Health Deteriorates after his wife's demise
Just five years ago, he was at his youthful best engaging cheerfully with his former teammates at the golden jubilee celebrations of Jolly Rovers including having a  chat with N Sankar. Even as recently as a couple of years ago, he was at an IPL match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Unfortunately, his health has dipped since. He is currently going through one of the most challenging times of his life. His wife had been a pillar of strength over the previous five decades. Following the death of his wife a year and half ago, his health has deteriorated rapidly. The medical expenses far exceed the pension he receives from the BCCI. It is not finances though that is a worry. At the peak of his cricketing powers, he was swarmed by his teammates and the fans. He was a personal favourite of KSN and NS. He had people all around him all the time. But now he is living a life of a loner fighting the health issues in a determined way all by himself at his home in ITI colony in Banashankari taking the tablets at the prescribed time, cooking the vastly ‘restricted’ food that he is allowed to have and living in the memories of the golden decade of his cricketing life.
 He talks to his two US settled daughters, Roopa and Deepa, every other day using the modern technology. His teammates from the 1960s too continue to reach out to him. Najam calls him at least once a fortnight while Satwendar meets him every time he is in Bangalore. Baradwaj lives on the other side of the city and is hopeful of meeting him once the Corona scare is out of the way. N Sankar who reached out to him when he went ‘out of sight’ (Rajagopal almost lost his eye sight in that phase) during his Middle East stint in the 1980s, too has reached out to his all time favourite batsman in recent years recalling the good old times. 
Several hours into the conversation with this writer, Rajagopal, aged 81, is tired. It is time for him to cook his lunch. But before that he has to take the tablets. He has so many restrictions that he says no external cook is ready to modify their model of cooking. As he slowly walks into the kitchen to take the tablet, he says that his abiding memory of cricket is that he played for the love of the game and gave delight to KSN and N Sankar, his teammates and thousands of fans in Madras and Tirunelveli “If people remember me today as a cricketer from that golden era, the entire credit goes to KSN and NS. KSN would often call me to his room and enquire about my well being. He wanted to make sure that I was taken care of well. It was an out of the world feeling for any young cricketer to be treated so by the Chief of the Company.” 

Those are the fond memories that Rajagopal continues to live with each day of his life as he rolls the tablet into his mouth and bids goodbye to this writer as he makes his way into the kitchen again to cook his meal for the day.