What has been the most embarrassing moment of your life? (Seems to be an ideal opportunity for many of you to send me your true life confessions.)
Mine was when I was stranded as a soprano washerwoman on the operatic stage in Bombay instead of being carted off to be a harem girl in a Chinese palace. A short-lived career indeed. But two friendly(?) Stephanians changed all that in the month of December 1997.
Our Professor of Journalism from the Big Apple, Sreenath, having read some of my musings, thought he would drop a gentle hint by subscribing me to the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) mailing list so that I could be exposed to the 90 odd learned scribes who share their thoughts on matters of earth-shattering importance (as do we Stephanians) - as to which is the best Indian sweet. (Some came out in favour of something known as "pinni", which in my long life in North India - especially with the cooking wizards in the Stephanian Mess, I was sadly kept in ignorance of. I stodgily stood behind Bangalorean K. C. Das's Sweet Curd - some had the nerve to claim this Kannadiga delicacy was from Bengal! I would have suggested Sukhia's barfi, but I was in a cussed South Indian mood.)
Coming back to my narrative, as I expressed my preference for this mouth-watering delicacy to the journalists, and then questioned why the Indian flag was called a tricolour when it has a fourth colour - the blue in the centre as the chakra - causing many of the assembled audience to unsubscribe from the list - suddenly, appeared a message to this all star cast saying something like - "Hey there, Sorry to use this for a personal query. Is the Jacob Matthan who questioned the use of tricolour the same as Sushil Matthan?"
My world was shattered to smithereens - here was I hiding in my anonymity and a fellow Stephanian, albeit a few years senior to me, with whom I just happened to share a flat in London for three good years, drops a hot potatoe (so with my Dan Quail spelling, now you can grade me to be inline for the American Vice Presidency) to this sombre (almost as dropping a brick at the Drones Club) list of great names from the American media, asking for the well hidden truth!!
A few more unsubscribe requests must have made Sreeni wonder whether he had destroyed his pet project by including me. In the process he put me in touch with Anil Kumar, Stephanian 1956-1959, Chartered Accountant from London 1966, much travelled character extraordinaire, as he can describe ball-by-ball (takes the good part of five days to get through it), even today, the final between Bombay University (captained by Ajit Wadekar) and Delhi University (captained by Akash Lal?) in 1959. He is now working in the Big Apple for a small population organisation which promotes family planning by using radio and tv soap operas to convey the message.
Welcome to Kooler Talk (Web Version) - Annie, yes, I thought I should respond in kind and reveal to our Stephanians your plomme de num (you can guess I got distinction in french for my Senior Cambridge as I mixed this nom de plume!!).
Thank you all for not castigating me for flooding your mailboxes with my reminder message last month - but I suffered the most, as there were 38 wrong addresses,, which meant I got over 150 returns in my mailbox, and I had to go through each one to check for the fault. See why I hate sending those reminders!
The response to the last issue was heartening - but the glory belongs, not to me, but the contribution of our dear Princi. Most suggested that I should give him a permanent space for his scribblings, which I think would be well worth it.
Many suggestions of titles for Anil's column came in - the most popular being "Corridors of Fame" - his piece about our sacred Stephanian corridor, so kindly circulated by Sreeni, having aroused a great deal of comment!
I have not decided on the name, and neither has Anil agreed to grace these pages on a regular basis - but we can always live in hope.
He has, however, has sent me a letter for this issue, so here goes.
Subject: More about College
Sent: 29/11/97 08:31
From: Dr. Anil Wilson, Principal of St. Stephen's College
I have gone through Issue Ten of the Web Version of Kooler Talk and have enjoyed it. A brief update on some of the issues mentioned by you:
VED PARKASH MARWAH, our Chief Guest for the Founders Day, is of the 1949-53 vintage. Graduated in Economics and then went on to do his post graduation in History. Joined the IPS and served in important positions. A more detailed CV will follow when I have a little more time.
Vikram Seth was not at St. Stephen's though there are some who suggest that he did join College for a very brief while before leaving for foreign climes. This needs to be checked out. However, the hero of "Suitable Boy" is specifically made out to be a Stephanian (is this an example of vicarious wish-fulfilment by Seth? Any shrinks among your readers who could delve deeper into this??)
(Ed: This issue remains unresolved - but the bulk of those who wrote told me to get on with it and read the book, nevertheless - still struggling on with this Five Year Project, but must say I have read some better stuff in my day!)
Talking about writers: Arundhati Roy's step daughter and husband are Stephanians. Hence we could persuade her to come and read portions of her "God of Small Things".
I do not think there is any Stephanian worth his mince who hasn't heard the story about Natwar Singh's comment in the College Visitor's Book: "I am what I am today because of College," and Mani Shankar Aiyar's, retort a few days later, "But why blame the poor College!?"
Well, Mani was in College two days ago on an IDG invitation, spoke on well into the night (he left at 11.30 p.m.) and the large audience, like the Wedding Guest in Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" were held in thrall by the glittering eye and tales of yore of this our own home-spun Ancient Mariner.
However, not to digress from the point from where I began: On leaving Mani wrote the usual courteous things about College in the Visitor's book, and ended up with, "But, No, I will not write anything about Natwar this time."
On the subject of Ancient Mariners and Old Boys: Sriniwas Sohni (63-68, History) who was Secretary to President Shankar Dayal Sharma and was appointed Secretary-General Rajya Sabha just before Shankar Dayal Sharma retired, was unceremoniously dumped thereafter and relegated to an inconsequential position. Sohni, with the help of another well-known Stephanian, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal (also member of the College Governing Body), took the johnies to court. Yesterday his position was vindicated and he was reinstated.
However, all is not bonhomie and camaraderie among Stephanians. Stephanian Jagmohan Dalmia and Stephanian Sunil Dev (both powers-to-reckon-with on the national cricket scene) were involved in a messy public squabble over the control of the Cricket Board of India. Body-line bowling and nasty bouncers were the order of the day till Dalmia got the better of his junior brother-[up]in-arms.
While on Cricket: College cricket team has reached the semi-finals of the Delhi University tournament. En-route, among the important victories were the one against Aurobindo college (Aurobindo: 121 all out. SSC: 121 for two) and, more important, against the chaps across the road (Hindu: 82 all out; SSC: 82 for one).
In the other DU tournaments concluded so far we have won the University Championship in both the men and women basketball. This is the first time that both these championships have come to us--we have been winning one or the other alternately.
The College debating team has been invited to Greece to participate in a World Debating event. In fact during the past few years the College Debating Team has been participating in a number of international events and doing very well.
(Ed: Should have them up against a series of Old Boys teams - we will then know which generation can produce the greatest amount of gas!!)
More in my next mail.
Need I add any more to this issue? Not to disappoint you folks, here are a few baby dinosaurs who have appeared on the scene during the last year.
Subject: Katy, 1969-70
Date: Tue, 08 Jul 1997 21:55:00 -0400
You've created a veritable nostalgia funhouse!
I graduated Stephen's in 1970 and was in residence from 1967 (Allnutt South).
I was also the Katy Editor in 1969, the year that Katy was "confiscated" by a group of students who didn't like the editorial content or the tone of the articles in a particular issue. Things got quite out of hand and the balance of the world seemed to be at stake for a short while!
It WAS a long time ago. Anyway, I'll have to try and remember more.
From: Prabhu Guptara
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 1997 10:07:16 -0400 (EDT)
I did not know that there was a Stephanian so near the Arctic Circle! And if I had realised it, I would certainly have dropped in on you when I was in Oulu doing some work for Nokia!
(Ed: Anyone else heard of this small Finnish company my daughter was working for before she decide to produce my first grandson - the very same daughter who has set me lines to read Suitable Boy as a process of father education - while she vacations in Bangalore?)
Though I hear about others from time to time, the only Stephanians I am in more or less regularly in touch with OUTSIDE INDIA are Anish Mathai (in NY) and "Juno" Verghese Varkki, (in Luxembourg).
I also WAS in touch with Trinanjan Mitra in Luxembourg but have lost touch with him for some years.
If any of you knows the whereabouts of Stephen George (Physics, 1960s; then LSE for his Masters; when last heard of he had formally changed his first name to Ranjit (or Ranjeet?) and was in California...).
And if any of you fellow mission-college guys ever visits Switzerland, look me up - I am based about 45 minutes north-east of Zurich airport, overlooking Lake Constance.
e-mail address is available
From: Prabhu Guptara
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 1997 07:41:41 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: Stephanians
I was at SSC 1965/70, then lectured there 1970/73, before going to Scotland for 3 years and England for 16 where I set up a consultancy while keeping up my academic links.
We did some work for Union Bank of Switzerland in 1995 and they made me an offer in 1996, so I have been with them 18 months as Group Director, Organisational Learning & Transformation while also continuing as Chairman of the consultancy in the UK.
Subject: Re: Hi There
From: Josew Vellapally
Date: Thu, 10 Jul 1997 12:43:23 +0500
Hello Sushil (Ed: yet another who reveals all),
Sure, I remember you and am delighted to hear about your "Kooler Talk" site.
I have just registered myself on both my old school and college registries on world alumni net. Yours is the first response from an old Stephanian.
I am now based in Delhi and have been practising in the Supreme Court since 1991.
Looking forward to seeing the next edition of KT.
Joseph Vellapally Stephanian 1962-1965
(Ed: Joe was the only person I ever ragged in my years at Stephen's. He was made to stand on one leg for a very long time - but, of course, I was not looking and he was cheating!! :-))
Subject: Re: Hi
From: Dileep Rao
Date: Thu, 10 Jul 1997 16:06:29 GMT
Yes, we were indeed in SSC together..... and I think I remember you somewhat better than you do me!
You were with Rajan Narayanan (Ed: Rajan was last heard of at Cochin working for one of the plantation companies) and the late Arjun Soni, weren't you?
(Ed: It was sad to hear about Arjun's demise. Arjun was popularly known as Horse because of the way he ran - he was a long distance runner of some merit and kept in training with Rhodes Scholar and Stephanian Olympian Ranjit Bhatia. I last met up with Arjun in Bangalore where he was branch manager for India Foils in the mid-seventies. He appeared to be in great physical shape then. Can anyone fill me on the details - as Arjun was a wonderful Stephanian and a happy personality.)
I clearly recall the story of your altercation with the late Arun "I'm tough" Babbar, who earned great laurels in his brief police career for valour and gallantry!
(Ed: Again, I am also very sad to hear of the demise of Arun - as he lived three rooms away from me during my three years in college. He was tough on the outside but a real softie inside - and after our first head-to-head confrontation, he realised that he had better not bother me - I was twice his size and also twice his weight, and just as physically fit as he was!!)
It's great to hear from you!
I read History Hons., doing my B.A. in '63 and my M.A. in '65, after which I went to Oxford for three years and have been working with ITC Ltd. since '69.
Write soon. Yours aye,
How is that for a sample from my mailbag. I have lots more to come from many a generation so please stay tuned for the February issue, which will end this Volume.
I shall then try to revamp the site to make it a bit more daring, but considering my total lack of knowledge about this thing they call a computer, it is really going to be an effort.
Those of you with web pages, please submit the correct URL - as some of the links given below (about 2 issues down) are broken. I have left thm in so that you will write to me when you note your link is not working.
As an aside - ad space on the Kooler Talk and the Katy Archive pages, as also all my other web pages are going at a premium. If you want to advertise to some 52000 hits from 70 countries every issue, do let me know. I will ask my ad agent, an young Indian nuclear physicist from Hyderabad working in a town, Jyväskylä, about 300 km south of Oulu in Finland on the local cyclotron, to get in touch with you. My intention is to help a few struggling Indian students here in Finland earn a small income so that they can support their studies in Finland as they are not entitled to any form of grant or subsidy, and living costs are substantial.
A very happy new year to all of you out there (be it Tamil, Parsi, or any other - I will not be repeating this greeting - my brand of secularism - for the next 365 days!) - and take care.
Your Kooler Talk (Web Version) Editor
Jacob - one who is still surviving the bitter cold of the Arctic - the Finnish word is "sisu" which the Finns say is Robert Bruce type perseverance but which in my case translates better as "blockhead"