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Remembering ‘Uncle Jovial’

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N J Ravi Chander
My maternal uncle M D Umapathi recalls the Fraser Town of the 1940s – a quiet, sleepy place with sizeable Anglo-Indian and Christian families. We believe there were plenty of wide-open spaces, and families lived in scattered houses. Post-retirement, circa 1947, from the Madras Sappers, my maternal grandfather’s clan settled here, just behind an under-construction Everest theatre. Maistry Chowriappa, who bought the land and constructed the now-defunct theatre, went around flaunting his horse carriage.
The East ground, which flanked the house, was a vast expanse stretching from the East Railway station to the Fraser Town police station. The open maidan meant that balls often strayed out of the playing arena and onto the road, leaving one to run down the slope to fetch them.
The locals enjoyed playing various games on the expansive maidan. Former hockey Olympians M Rajagopal and VJ Peter regularly went through their hockey drills here, were big draws. The uncle who picked up the game’s nuances from Rajagopal represented Karnataka and Indian Audit, and post-retirement from hockey, he served the game in different capacities.
Among his most memorable assignments were managing the 1975 Karnataka state hockey team that won the Mohan Kumaramangalam Memorial Trophy at Bhilai and taking charge of the 1977 south Indian hockey side, which locked horns with Holland in an exhibition tie at Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium.
He also donned the hat of a technical delegate during the first, and only Hockey Test played between India and Pakistan in Bengaluru, at the same venue, in 1978. The fast and furious game drew a world record 50,000 strong audience. The mercurial right-winger Islahuddin Siddique led the victorious Pakistan side, while India had the talented half-back, VJ Philips, at the helm. Uncle Umapathi also managed the Karnataka state hockey team, which lifted the 1978 Correra cup against Sri Lanka at Belgaum.
Uncle recalls pleading with the engine driver for grease when the Madras (now Chennai) bound passenger train halted at the Bangalore East railway station near his residence for a few minutes. The engine driver would respond by hurling little packets of the item, which would be shaped into figurines.
There were hardly any vehicles, and uncle remembers the precious jutka rides on the quiet roads! He would sometimes park himself beside the coachman and steer the horse. Buses were scarce, running on limited routes, and the driver waited for the coach to fill up before departing.
An ancient Hindu burial ground lay on the other side of the East railway station, and residents feared straying here after dusk, fearing the paranormal unknown. Several spine-tingling ghost stories also did the rounds. The municipal authorities later levelled the graveyard and converted it into the current Lazarus layout, a bustling residential locality.
Cops would lurk in the shadows and pounce on unsuspecting cyclists who rode without lamps after dusk. It was also an offence to cycle near the railway tracks. The railway police would reprimand the errant rider and impound the vehicle.
One had to cough up a penalty at the city railway station, ten kilometres away, to reclaim the seized vehicle. Lakshmi Bhavan was one of the town’s first hotels, and the crisp masala dosas and the fluffy idlis were something to die for. At an age when it was taboo for women to perform temple rituals, a priestess carried out pujas at the nearby Mootomariyamma shrine. That was another era!
(The author is a former banker who has taken to writing as a past time. He regularly contributes to various national and regional publications including Kashmir Vision)

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