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Waking up a sleepy town

Time passed inexorably from weeks to months and all my hopes of an early return to Bangalore to be reunited with my family were evaporating. I resigned myself to my fate although efforts were not lacking for working out a transfer. My appeals to the Management and the Officers’ Association bosses were in vain. Instead I was advised to work like a true solder at his post. Left with no choice I immersed myself in my favourite activities. I found out after a little effort the beginning of the branch and the date it was opened. I gathered all the staff one day and initiated the formation of a Recreation Club. When the Regional Manager visited the Branch during his tour I arranged a meeting of the staff and formally had the Club inaugurated by him. I also recalled the Branch’s history in a short speech I made on the occasion and reminded all those present that it was the Branch’s anniversary. A group photograph was taken. Many appreciated my efforts to trace the history of the branch which was in oblivion till then. The club became very active with games like caroms, chess. Volleyball etc. every evening. The staff responded enthusiastically. I organized mushairas, magical shows, talks on matters of interest to the staff by eminent local people etc. Although initially many gave a slip to these they turned around gradually. The crowning glory of my initiatives was the conduct of a State level table tennis championship under the auspices of our nascent Club. My junior colleague from Bangalore, Nagendra is from a T.T.playing family. His father was a great sportsman in his younger days. He was very good at tennis, badminton but table tennis was his favourite game which he continued to play till he was in his mid eighties. He was able to subdue and beat many young players half his age. He had a whole room in his modest home in Bangalore stacked with trophies. He taught his four sons the basics of the game and all of them achieved name and fame by the time they reached their teens. He worked in the State Bank of India in its Ooty and Bangalore branches. I came in contact with him at the Bangalore City branch when I visited my father occasionally. He offered to coach me when I told him that I was very much interested to master the game. Every Sunday morning I used to go to the Bangalore City branch to practice with him for hours and fine tune my game. I also visited him at his home and together we visited a T.T. club nearby and played a few games with others who came regularly to the club. I remember one day I played a couple of games with a youngster who was being trained by his father for participating in open tournaments. He was good but when I beat him a few times his father was furious at his son for losing to a person much older to him.

Earlier although I was a keen spectator of the game for a long time I had never tried my hand at playing. When I introduced the game as one of the sporting activities of our Club in the Bangalore Branch I was inclined to pick up the racquet and play as many of the staff were just beginners and it was my duty to prod as many of them as possible to participate. With all the nuances of the game which had been accumulated in my mind over the years of watching great players both national and international it was easy for me to gradually excel in the game. In the many tournaments I conducted in the branch for the staff over the years I came out successful in a number of them. So when it came to conducting a tournament in Bijapur it was natural that there was enough expertise to conduct the same successfully. Nagendra and I toiled for days to organize the tournament. We hired the Town Hall, got hold of a reasonably good table from a school and sent out invitations to all the schools and colleges, offices and other private clubs to participate. We invited the staff of branches nearby to confirm entries.

The response was magnificent. We received over 400 entries. The dates (only on Saturdays and Sundays) were finalized and the draw was made. The event stirred up a lot of interest not only among the staff of only the Banks in town but many local sports enthusiasts also. Personally speaking it was a big success for me too. I eliminated the top seed in the semi final after a dramatic five setter. Down by two sets I fought back to win the third and fourth. Cheered vociferously by the entire packed hall I literally rose from the depths to score a magnificent victory in the fifth. I was lifted by the spectators on their shoulders. It was a memorable night. The final promised much but petered out as my opponent, normally an attacking player, chose to defend as he knew my strength was in defense. After a couple of slow games the crowd started getting restless. The chief guest whom I had personally invited for the prize distribution called me aside and wanted to leave as he had another important engagement for the night and suggested that his wife would be asked to stay back and do the honour. I assured him that I would end the contest as soon as possible and changed my game from defense to attack to expedite the game but lost eventually. I became a hero overnight. During the remaining part of my stay in Bijapur I participated in a few more tournaments and collected a few more trophies. I was thus able to not only relieve the boredom of my stay away from the family but also earn the respect and love of the Bijapur people.

My tenure in Bijapur ended after nearly two years. I managed regular visits to Bangalore at least once a month. I had also brought Raji and children to Bijapur for a two week holiday. My brother from Bombay also joined us with his wife at the same time to spend a memorable holiday together. Since Secunderabad was closer to Bijapur I visited that place on a couple of week ends to spend time with my first sister and her family. Ever since her marriage way back in 1953 she had been resident in Hyderabad until a couple of years after my brother in law’s retirement from the Railways. Eventually they shifted to Calicut for permanent residence. My niece Shobha had been married to my uncle Ramurthy Mama’s son Prakash and had already taken up residence in Calicut. So my sister came home to roost so to speak and also joined her daughter.

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