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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII No. 15, November 16-30, 2012
Of tennis and impromptu clubs

(Continued from last fortnight)

K.S. Narayanan, who passed away recently, was a person who enjoyed company, enjoyed storytelling, and enjoyed life – with a broad smile always in place. These excerpts from his memoirs Friendships and Flashbacks reflect that life.


On his interest in sports and a rather strange outcome of it: The Sadasivam that KSN refers to here was C.K. Satchi, the life-partner of film star and singer N.C. Vasanthakokilam.

In the 1950s, when my interest in sport was revived by a remarkable old man called Jagadeesa Iyer, my habit of early rising gave me time for a few vigorous games of tennis. Tennis gradually became a mild obsession and, though I was by no means a superb player, I became a steady and committed one. I played, on an average, 300 days in a year, for something like fortyfive years; and didn't give up the game until I was in my mid-seventies.

Since Jagadeesa Iyer was a tennis enthusiast himself, he nagged me until I leased a court at the Mylapore Ladies Club, and began playing both singles and doubles games every morning. I became a demon for practice; the early morning sessions worked off all my excess energy.

By now I was the focus of an entire tennis-playing coterie, which included Jimmy Thambuswamy and 'Jappu' – C.G. Ganapathy. We played a doubles game at the Mylapore court, and most mornings I would be outside Jimmy's Gandhinagar house at five in the morning to pick him and Jappu up on my way to the club. This circumstance led to the only piece of scandal that touched my life.

A newspaper called the Indunesan carried an insinuating piece that went something like this: "S.N.N. Sankaralinga Iyer's son had better mend his morals if he does not want to find his picture in the papers. Every morning, at five o'clock, his car has been noticed parked in Gandhinagar, opposite the house of a woman of loose reputation. No doubt he stays with her all night." This bit of scurrility was too laughable to take seriously. I bought two copies, sent one to Anna and one to Madhuram; the one trusted me and the other knew where I spent my nights.

"This is an outrage, Nana!" a couple of my friends said. "We ought to file a suit for defamation!" Another friend even rolled up his sleeves and offered to beat up the editor of the paper, whose name was Lakshmikantham.

"Don't do a thing," I said to them, "If I start issuing denials now, this incident will be blown up out of all proportion. If we keep quiet about it, it will die down of itself."

Later, I learnt that the part about the lady, at any rate, was correctly reported and that the gentleman she was entertaining had an office in the Vanguard Buildings where India Cements was also located. The reporters had seen his car outside the same two parking spaces as I frequently used. Putting two and two together, too circumstantially, the editor had made five. We also discovered that this editor was a seasoned blackmailer who had been making similar threats to many important citizens of Madras. Another acquaintance of mine, a film director called Sadasivam, was warned that Indunesan was going to carry a picture of him 'with his girlfriends'. He waltzed into the paper's office the next morning with a bagful of compromising pictures. "All right," he said cheerfully, "Now which one do you want to choose?" Lakshmikantham met the doom reserved in all the novels for blackmailers: he was murdered. Does anyone remember the famous case in which M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar, N.S. Krishnan and Sriramulu were implicated?

Sometimes, I do believe I have a ruthless streak after all, especially when I have set my heart on winning a game. Some of my friends banked so completely on my sheer determination to win that they would make wagers on the games I played. Sometimes they won small sums, and sometimes the loser stood everyone drinks at the MCC bar.

In the 1960s, I began to take an interest in cricket, partly because I was already a member of the Madras Cricket Club. Cricket sponsorship was considered, at that time, the preserve of public limited British companies, banks and wealthy individuals. S. Rangajaran of The Hindu, for instance, had his own protégés. I thought that if India Cements ventured into this new territory it would be to the mutual benefits of talented cricketers and the firm. As far as I know, India Cements was among the first indigenous private sector corporate enterprises to become involved in cricket sponsorship. In 1966, we became the patrons of a team called the Jolly Rovers, which included seven or eight players of repute. At the end of the 1960s, incidentally, India Cements also sponsored a really international scale sports event: the Asian Athletics Meet.

The Jolly Rovers carried off most of the First Division level trophies for the first decade of its existence. It was a little subdued for a decade or so after this, until Bharat Reddy took charge of it in the 1980s. Reddy did something magical to the team's chemistry and they are back on a winning spree. My sons feel that our cricket sponsorship, which has now been taken over largely by Chemplast, was an excellent way of boosting our corporate identity, though I didn't exactly think of it in these terms when we got started.

On the beginnings of the Indian Education Trust. Vaidyasubramania Iyer was secretary to Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar and later known as a philanthropist.

In 1970, a group of people in Raja Annamalaipuram resolved to start a good school for the children who lived in the area. Vaidyasubramania Iyer donated 1½ grounds of land to this cause, and a committee called the Indian Educational Society was set up to help the process along. A friend of mine called Pattabhiraman was on that committee and was appointed manager of the schools. The committee also had, as its Chairman, another man who knew me well: R. Venkataraman who, as Industries Minister of Tamil Nadu, had come to the rescue of many of my projects at one time or another.

The school started functioning out of a building that was bought from the Theoso-phical Society (it had in fact housed their old printing press, the Vasanta Press). The building had been bought out of money that had been loaned by the government. In 1976, when the repayment of the loan was scheduled, an emergency meeting of the school's committee was called, and I attended that meeting. Venkataraman put the case before us: the school was facing a cash crunch, it could not repay the loan, and it would look bad on Venkataraman's career record if he underwrote another loan from the government to repay this one. What were they to do?

Quite carried away by my enthusiasm at this point, I made an offer: I would raise the money they required. And raise it I did. I arranged the staging of a play by Manohar's company, and had a souvenir printed for the occasion which, as someone later told me, was a Who's Who of India Cements' suppliers, clients, retailers, well-wishers. I had by now, almost without being aware of it myself, been drawn into this school's trajectory. Pattabhiraman had gone away to Bombay and my brother-in-law, V.S. Dhandapani, had taken over the management of the school. At a subsequent meeting of the school's committee, I presented a cheque to Venkataraman, in his capacity as Chairman of the school committee; he gave it right back to me and said he was giving it to the future Chairman of the committee. With that meeting, R.V. handed over charge of the school to me.

With Dhandapani's able management, the fortunes of this school improved year by year and, by 1980, there was talk of setting up a Matriculation Higher Secondary counterpart to the original Central Board-affiliated school. Land was allotted in Tiruvanmiyur for the new branch, and by 1988 the Sankara Matriculation School was functioning out of makeshift sheds. Over the next decade, bit by painful bit, a new set of buildings was raised – until now the school's buildings are the envy of the entire loca-lity. The buildings in Tiruvanmiyur also house APEX, an educational project for bright young people who are taking enhanced commerce degrees by correspondence. The Sankara Schools, both the C.B.S.E. one and the Matriculation one, follow a set policy: the best possible education for the children, with nothing denied. The fees are kept moderate, and no capitation fees are accepted. For all this, the schools are self-financing, without aid from the government. Earlier, I played an active role in their management; now, Dhandapani and Kumar keep me informed about developments whenever something interesting comes up.

On his role in saving the Music Academy from a financial crisis in 1968.

I always enjoyed good music, but what with being involved in business and in sports, I had never thought of becoming a regular patron of the arts. When the Music Academy of Madras ran into financial trouble at the end of the 1960s, my friend V.D. Swami was one of the people T.T. Krishnamachari appealed to for ideas. Swami was a cheerful philistine.

"Turn the place into a cinema hall for nine months of the year," V.D. Swami said. As far as the cultural crowd in Madras was concerned, that was like asking the U.S. President to hand over the Oval Office to the Russian Premier for nine months of the year. T.T.K. was livid, and so were a lot of other people. Worried that Swami would be blamed for the collective capacity apoplexy of the Madras intelligentsia, I chipped in:

"Why don't you ask the banks to reschedule your repayments?" I had just been through three years of doing precisely this, to stave off disasters at India Cements and Chemplast.

T.T.K. turned to me as if to a deliverer, "Will you try?"

I went to the Indian Bank and, on behalf of the Academy, successfully negotiated for something they called the 'easy repayment' scheme. That year I was nominated a patron of the Music Academy, though to this day I don't know who proposed my name. (KSN was later to be a trustee as well.)

A group of major cement manufacturers of Madras with R Venkataraman, then Industries and Labour Minister, Government of Madras (at the far right).
From L to R – KSN, TS Sundaram (Panyam Cements), PR Ramasubrahmaneya Rajha (Madras Cements), TS Narayanaswami and CS Loganatha Mudaliar (Travancore Cements).

On his social groups and his impromptu clubs.

I am a very clubbable man. Like other businessmen and sociable people, I joined my share of clubs: the MCC, of course, and the Gymkhana Club in 1953; the Cosmopolitan Club when India Cements moved into the Dhun Buildings in 1959; and the Madras Club in 1966. But the clubs that I have belonged to that have given me greatest gratification were the impromptu ones. An activity I took up would often become a nucleus around which a whole coterie would form. My passion for walking led to the Walkers Club that had dedicated early morning constitutionalists. The walkers who took frequent rests and were unashamedly garrulous during these breaks formed a sub-group that was reviled as the 'Talkers' Club.' And the gin-rummy players who made up the 'Paplu Club' – the club house being my residence – would, I am forced to admit, sell their souls for a chance to outwit each other.

The Paplu Club is open age-wise or as regards professional qualifications, but exclusive as regards the possession of the right spirit for it. It has grown by accretion, and a curious assortment the members are: all age groups are admitted, and people from every walk of life. The rummy evenings begin with ritual precision at three o'clock on weekdays, and go on through various riotous phases, until we wind up at around eight in the evening.

On a meeting with C. Rajagopalachari: SISCO referred to here was South India Shipping Corporation, founded by T.S. Narayanaswami.

One of the most memorable of the political leaders I ever met was C. Rajagopalachari. In 1965 or so, Lord Inchcape, one of the Directors of the P & O Group, visited India in connection with SISCO, and it fell to me to take him visiting. At Rajaji's office, I made the introductions and then faded into the background, content to watch while East met West. The elder statesman had done his homework. He knew everything there was to know about the Earl of Inchcape's genealogy and personal history. After some conversation in this vein, suddenly Rajaji said, "Will you tell your young friend there something? Ask him to invest in the Swatantra Party. We are the party that takes care of the capital, though we promise no returns just yet. If he backs the Congress, he will be assured of a large interest, but he will lose his capital as surely as I am sitting here."


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In this Issue

INTACH invited to restore 5 HC buildings
Will the latest plan reduce T'Nagar chaos?
Five years on, still no power from Udangudi
A great address to have
A Chennaivaasi's Chennai
Of tennis and impromptu clubs
Juicy success
The pleasure of walking at Elliot's Beach

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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