“Always A Foreigner” by Ashwini Devare

The Indian Foreign Service has always been considered a highly prestigious organisation, especially when I was growing up in the 1950s and the 1960s. It was said that this branch of the All India Civil Services was the first choice for successful candidates. It was also believed that the children of IFS officers lived a most luxurious life, traveling all over the world.

Always A Foreigner: A Memoir ” by Ashwini Devare puts at rest the myth about children of IFS officers. She writes of how actually the frequent transfers came in the way of a steady education. While the exposure to different countries of the world brought many benefits in its wake, it could also result in children getting disoriented through having to unlearn and relearn all the time in a new environment. In her own case, she had lived in six different countries by the time she was fifteen so, as you can imagine, she is best qualified to write about these experiences.

Ms Devare’s memoirs are delightful! They capture how she and her family coped in different lands where her father represented India in various capacities, over the decades from the 1960s till the start of the 21st century. What makes the book more interesting is her interspersing her personal memories with major events that took place at that time. She describes, amongst other incidents, how the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away in Tashkent when they were in Moscow; how the Chogyal and the Gyalmo- their Royal Highnesses The King and Queen of Sikkim – fled Gangtok when they were there; and when they were in New Delhi how horrible events traumatized the city following the assassination of Prime Minster Indira Gandhi.

In addition, we are treated to rich slices of her family life. She has captured her characters so well that we feel we have met them in person. Her father, deeply committed to his country and his responsibilities; her mother, who first went abroad as a young bride barely days after her marriage ; and her sister who grew up with her, and how they shared many experiences while they were quite different from each other by way of personalities.

In the course of the book, Ms Devare captures the highpoints of her career as a broadcast journalist, an on-air reporter and producer, and later as a writer. She studied and worked in different countries and experienced many challenges in each of them.

I enjoyed the elegant yet simple writing style which is a characteristic of this book. I also appreciated the high degree of candor and honesty displayed by the author. I would highly recommend this book to those interested in travel and history. Indeed, I would recommend this to anyone looking to enjoy some good writing !

“The Reluctant MD: A Gynaecologist’s Journey” : Dr Usha Mohan

Disclaimer: Writing a review of a book written by a friend is a tough one! If you praise it too much, some readers may think it was done only to boost the image of a friend. If you are too critical, there is a danger of losing a friend!! What I have said just now is true, of course, only if the reviewer declares that the author is a friend! I am cheerfully declaring that it has been a privilege for me to have known Dr Usha Mohan and her husband, Dr Mohan for over a decade.

Usha has made my job much easier by writing such an interesting and eminently readable book that it is not at all difficult to praise it. The title is intriguing : “The Reluctant MD: A Gynaecologist’s Journey”. It is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

I daresay most people have little idea of the challenges faced by a practicing gynaecologist. That you have a role in bringing someone into this world is an onerous responsibility, especially when things go wrong. That’s the time -we discover from her book- the doctor has to use all her knowledge and skills to save the lives of the mother and the child. Remember much of what she has written took place decades ago when there weren’t as many facilities as there are today. Equipment like ultrasound machines, so common place today, were a rare luxury in those days. To her credit, Dr Usha Mohan has managed to keep the medical terms and technicalities to a level that is understandable by a layman. After all, this isn’t a medical thesis.

Dr Usha Mohan’s book comes straight from the heart. Interesting, entertaining and more than anything else, honest! Her sharing of her professional experiences as a gynecologist in different parts of the world makes for absorbing reading. While all branches of medicine have their own challenges and rewards, her book describes the travails and triumphs of a gynecologist – with the richest reward being bringing a little – and sometimes a very big -one into this world. Her experiences span several continents and this is reflected in the stories of her professional life. 

Apart from medicine, Dr Usha Mohan speaks of her life long interest and competence in interior decor, painting, fashion, and fitness. Now it has been clearly established through this book- that she has skills as a writer as well!

The biggest take away from her book, for me, is her urging people to follow their passions and love what they do, as she has done over the decades. Highly recommended.

Remembering Fr Ed McGrath SJ

Yesterday, January 7, 2021 happened to be the 98th birth anniversary of Father Edward H. McGrath SJ, one of the finest teachers and human beings I have come across. He passed away on August 4, 2017 aged 94 much to the sorrow of thousands who had been taught by him or interacted with him during his time at XLRI, Jamshedpur.

This venerable institution where I had the privilege of studying from 1972 to 1974 was started in 1949 and is now called XLRI: Xavier School of Management. He was one of the Founding Fathers of this institution. Over the decades, he became a legend in XLRI . I think it is fair to say that for many like me, McGrath was XLRI and XLRI was McGrath. More often than not when alumni reached the XLRI campus, the first thing they would do would be to seek out Fr McGrath wherever he was.

Roshan Dastur, who worked closely with Fr McGrath during his time in XLRI ; my classmate, Harriet Silva Vidyasagar, and I decided to have – in these days of Covid- a virtual meeting to remember Fr McGrath yesterday. About 20 people, largely from India and the US, took part in this Zoom meeting which went on for about one and half hours. Each speaker had something nice to say about Fr McGrath. The respect, regard and affection for him was so very evident. He was a great teacher and a perfect role model for being a coach and mentor.

His life and achievements have been chronicled many times. I don’t want to list all that he did during his decades in India. However, this article in his Alma Mater the Regis High School in New York published when he passed away, gives you a quick summary about his life.

I was searching for a picture of the last time I met him, which was long ago. My earlier blog, “People At Work and Play” came to the rescue and I found an old post dated February 5, 2007 titled ” A Pleasant Reunion “. I feel so bad that I couldn’t trace that picture of me holding his glass of beer while he signed Prof Joe Phillip’s book for me !

Decades ago, around 1976 or so, I was working in ACC Chaibasa, in the predominantly tribal belt of Jharkhand. At the office one day, our Peon , Darbari Ram, told me that a ” Gora Saheb” was asking for me. Showing surprise, Darbari whispered that this Saheb spoke Hindi fluently and instead of coming by car had come riding a motorbike! I laughed out aloud knowing it couldn’t be anyone other than Fr McGrath. So typical of him to come to enquire after one of his students as he happened to be in the area!

If you want to master managerial skills or know someone who wishes to do so, I would strongly recommend this classic by Fr McGrath, which has seen many a re-print. His good old : “ Basic Managerial Skills For All” available at Amazon and elsewhere.

I know that Father would have been pleased to see us yesterday at our Zoom meeting , remembering him. I hope he would have given us his approving trade mark, ” Theek Hai”!!

Remembering Mr Gupta!

A subject that I dreaded in School was Hindi. Perhaps it was more my fault than that of my teachers. To start with I could not understand , for example, why a chair was of the feminine gender and cloth was of the masculine gender. It was not surprising that I struggled all through School!

Mr Ganesh Prasad Gupta, known far and wide as “Gupu” was one of our Hindi teachers at The Lawrence School, Lovedale. He could pack a punch and I write with considerable personal experience in this matter. This was, of course, long before the days when corporal punishment was frowned upon. Masters could- and frequently did- slap us to put some sense in us. Whether they succeeded or not is highly debatable!

For reasons best known to himself, Gupu used the phrase, ” steady slap” as against the more common, “tight slap.” He once asked us to write an essay on ” Urban vs Rural” expecting us to write about the differences in outlook, facilities, economies etc. He was a sticker for exactitude. If he expected 1000 words, by God that’s exactly what he accepted. 999 was not good enough. You had to pass the magical 1000 mark.

I was on 950 words or so and the clock was ticking. We had to hand in our papers soon. To cross the much wanted finish line, from out of the blue, I made the Town Guy say, ( in rudimentary Hindi, of course! ) : ” Hey, look at that guy! ” To which the Village Guy asked, ” Where? Which guy? ” Town guy, ” There, there! ” Village Guy, ” Just look at him, ha ha!! ” Town Guy: ” Yes, look, look, ha, ha ha,” There was more along these lines and the essay finished well past 1000 words.

Over 55 years have gone by but I still remember the walloping I got from Mr Gupta, much to the amusement of my classmates. They howled with laughter when he read out the last few paragraphs to highlight how an essay should NOT be written.

Mr Gupta perhaps prided himself on being a stickler for grammar as he would ( for reasons best known to himself) start with the future tense. ” Bewakoof ladka! You need a steady slap!” This was fair warning for fellows like me as to what was coming in the very near future. He shifted then, more hurriedly, to the present tense, ” I will give you a steady slap now.” That was the signal for me to take a deep breath and brace body and soul for what was imminent. Whack! There came the steady slap! Your head reeled and you could actually count the stars. Then seemingly in the distance you could hear Mr Gupta, as correct as always, summarize recent events with his customary, ” I gave you a steady slap!!!” As if you couldn’t make that out!!!

Sadly, Mr Gupta is no more. Wherever he is, if he could, I am sure he would have a chuckle on reading how his ” steady slap” – if not the Hindi he taught- is remembered even after five and a half decades.

“Bifocals And A Walking Stick” by M Gopalkrishna Bhat

The book being reviewed today is titled, “Bifocals And A Walking Stick”.  Perhaps because I know the author of the book, Mr M Gopalkrishna Bhat, is an elderly gentleman, I thought the title was most appropriate. It radiates a mental image of the essential props for the elderly!

This book is a collection of delightful essays which make for an entertaining read. However, you need to appreciate the context in which they were written. If you are familiar with the old Bombay ( now of course called “Mumbai”) and the coastal parts of Karnataka in and around Mangalore (now called “Mangaluru”) you will enjoy the book all the more, because that is where Mr Bhat has lived for most of his life. Of course, the book also has a few essays on life in Singapore, but these naturally come much after the earlier essays in terms of time.  Continue reading ““Bifocals And A Walking Stick” by M Gopalkrishna Bhat”

“Tiffin” by Rukmini Srinivas

Writing a story of a large family that starts in 1892 till the present day is in itself a huge challenge. To write about the wonderful food which you have cooked, eaten, and enjoyed over the decades is again an incredibly challenging task. Added to this, you need to choose the most memorable from amongst a long list and carefully write their recipes while catering to an international audience. Mrs. Rukmini Srinivas surprises us by doing all this and doing it with finesse and style in her semi-autobiographical book, “Tiffin” described as “Memories and Recipes of Indian Vegetarian Food.” I loved  this book and would commend it to anyone fond of family stories and who look for a bunch of amazing recipes mainly from the South of India.

Continue reading ““Tiffin” by Rukmini Srinivas”