On Admiral Katari's 101st birth anniversary, I dedicate this post to him for his invaluable contribution to the world of cryptic crosswords in India.
Here are some rare photographs and facts about Admiral Ram Dass Katari (1911–1983) the cruciverbalist.
[Many thanks to Admiral Katari's family Ravi Katari, Ramu & Lalita Ramdas, Tehzeeb, and friend Cmde (Rtd) Ranjit Rai for their inputs.]
1 In 1971, the then Hindu editor Gopalan Kasturi who knew Admiral Katari and his skill with crosswords suggested that he set the crossword for the paper. Admiral Katari agreed, and then discovered that setting a crossword was not as easy as it seemed. He bought some books of blanks and spent a long time practising grid creation and filling. He made his own grids by hand and was very particular that the same words and similar clues did not repeat themselves.
Handmade grids by Admiral Katari on the left, print versions of crosswords on the right.
Print and handwritten versions of The Hindu Crossword no. 1000. The family recalls that Admiral Katari was inordinately tickled with this - he told them that he had managed to get hold of this crossword from the then Chief of Bureau for the Hindu, Shri GK Reddy, while on one of his visits to Delhi from Hyderabad.
2 Admiral Katari set The Hindu Crossword single-handedly and anonymously for several years after its inception. [The Hindu began to carry setters' by-lines only in 2008.] In a time when informal channels of communication were next to non-existent, very few solvers were aware of the real identity of the paper's crossword setter.
3 Since he was the only crossword setter at the time, when going away on leave for longish spells he would work fervently in the weeks before to leave a stock of puzzles with the paper and some reserve.
4 As the family rummaged through trunks and cupboards containing Admiral Katari's possessions, they discovered a battered cardboard box containing fourteen bundles of paper tied with string - each bundle containing 100 crosswords similar to the one in the picture above. This adds up to 1400 crosswords compiled and written by hand.
Discovered in a battered cardboard box: crossword bundle tied with string.
5 As a solver, his crossword of choice was the Times of India crossword, a UK-syndicated cryptic in those days. Records of his solving time are not available but his family recollects seeing the completed crossword on his desk at home in Delhi frequently.
6 An expert Scrabble player, he was clever with fitting words into connecting spots and had a huge vocabulary to draw from. When his children played against him as a twosome, a score less than 700 was hopeless.
7 Admiral Katari only used lead pencils for solving crosswords, and got very angry if anyone used a pen. He hated to see a newspaper folded over down to the crossword size!
8 When he realised in the late 1970s that he was not going to be able to continue setting crosswords, he trained a successor in Commodore Warner, also from Hyderabad, who picked up his setting style as well as his standards. Commodore Warner set the crosswords for Hindu for about three years, and in turn trained his successor in Hyderabad.
9 Crossword memorabilia, including The Hindu Crosswords 1000 and 1001, are on display at Katari Memorial Hall, A/21, Sainikpuri near Secunderabad. Some pictures from the site:
Name board at the entrance to the Katari Heritage Hall, which was inaugurated a year ago on 8th Oct 2011.
Admiral Katari's daughter Mrs. Lalita Ramdas with her son-in-law Carl Jenkins Jr. at the Katari Heritage Hall.
Admiral in Burma: closer look at the framed photo in the image above.
Crossword memorabilia on display at the Katari Heritage Hall. The label reads:
The Second Retirement: 1969-83 Gold And Bridge; Crosswords For The Hindu; Mazagon Dock And Sundry Boards; Lions Club, Rotary, Sports Bodies, And Social Work
10 This anecdote isn't exactly about crosswords but I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Cmde (Rtd) Ranjit Rai, who was a cadet when Admiral Katari was the Navy Chief, recounts this incident:
Admiral Katari came to INS TIR and on inspection in his anglicised accent asked Cadet Gill, a thait Sardar, "Do you sail?"
Gill replied, "Sir, sometimes"
Gill did not sail so we said, "Why did you lie to the Chief?"
Gill said, "I thought he asked me if I shave. He is smart; he saw I trim my beard."
In closing, a closer shot of The Hindu Crossword 1000 and 1001.
Coming up next: crossword set by Admiral Katari, for you to solve.
- Quiz: How well do you know The Hindu Crossword?
- Fascinating facts about setters' pseudonyms
- Interviews with crossword setters and solvers
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