Monday, October 8, 2012

Remembering Admiral Katari, the first crossword setter of The Hindu

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Plenty is written and said in the media about Admiral Ram Dass Katari's legacy as the first Indian Navy Chief. Very little is said about his legacy as the first Indian cryptic crossword setter.

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.

The Hindu Crossword grids by Admiral Katari 
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 
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.

Admiral Katari's crossword bundle 
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:

Katari Heritage Hall 
Name board at the entrance to the Katari Heritage Hall, which was inaugurated a year ago on 8th Oct 2011.

Katari Heritage Hall 
Admiral Katari's daughter Mrs. Lalita Ramdas with her son-in-law Carl Jenkins Jr. at the Katari Heritage Hall.

Admiral Katari in Burma
Admiral in Burma: closer look at the framed photo in the image above.

Crossword memorabilia on display at Katari Heritage Hall
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.

The Hindu Crossword 1000 and 1001 

Coming up next: crossword set by Admiral Katari, for you to solve.

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17 comments

Bhavan said...

Exceptional article Shuchi. Great research in obtaining these rare pictures. Looking forward to the puzzle.

Kishore said...

Thanks Shuchi for the great piece about the Admiral. I have had the pleasure of solving his crosswords during my college days and feel that he richly merits the crossword equivalent of a 21 gun salvo.

Chaturvasi said...

As one who solved The Hindu Crossword No. 1 on February 15, 1971 (I remember the date because it was just after I had married: I saw the new feature in the paper when I was on a holiday in Kerala with my bride who excused my engagement with the puzzle for a few minutes as she sat there twirling the thali around her neck), I am very glad to read this article remembering a setter for whom I have great admiration. In fact, once upon solving a crossword in the paper in which I found some 27 clues out of 30 too good, I wrote to the Editor that if a Book of 50 Best Hindu Crossword Puzzles were to be published, that puzzle must find a place in it.

The first puzzle was published with the title "Daily Crossword Puzzle No. 1" (of which I have a copy). I don't know when the paper's name was included in the title but you will notice that when the paper published the 1000th puzzle, the four-digit number edged out the word "No."

Though the crossword was published anonymously I was among those who knew that it was set by Adm. Katari. I don't remember when I came to possess this information (not in the initial years anyway) but the nugget was given to me by my brother-in-law, Rear Admiral N. K. Ramanarasiah, who once told me that when he mentioned my interest in crosswords to the setter, the Admiral recalled that the person must be "that chap from Madras" who wrote numerous letters. The Hindu forwarded copies of the letters; there were occasions when I got letters from the paper giving me the setter's response to my comment. (The paper kept out the names from one another.)

You mention a second setter. Even in those years when the crossword was published anonymously regular solvers would have guessed that a second hand was involved in some puzzles: in fact at some stage I did write to the paper about my feeling though I did not receive any confirmation. I am afraid I can't agree with the statement that the second setter had the same setting style as well as standards of the Admiral. I don’t know when Adm. Katari ceased to supply puzzles to the paper but for some years before he signed off he had at least one sharing the work with him.

Re grids that Adm. Katari used. I can't speak about all that he deployed but certainly some of them were the same that a U.K. paper used. Decades have gone by but I still remember some of them: one that had four H's descending diagonally from left top to right below; another that had two E's, one of them a mirror reflection of the other.

Years ago when I posted a message in the message board of Derek Harrison's Crossword Centre about Adm. Katari having been a setter, a high-ranking Royal Navy officer who had met him in the UK at naval conferences was delighted to know about that side of the Admiral.

C. G. Rishikesh
(aka Chaturvasi)

VJ said...

Wow!! Awesome!!

Kinda curious. Was the paper orangish in color those days?

Chaturvasi said...

Nothing strange!

If no crossword was published on October 18, 1974 it must be because there was no edition of the paper on that day. October 17 must have been a 'closed' holiday for the offices of the paper on account of Ayudha Puja and consequently there would have been no issue dated October 18.

Chaturvasi said...

Orangeish? No, no.

Newsprint even when it is in cardboard boxes fades over the years. If exposed to sunlight, it becomes discoloured even faster.

A mere solver, I had bundles and bundles of clippings of the Admiral's crosswords; some years ago I discarded them as the paper had deteriorated over the years.

Krishnan said...

Excellent piece. Loved it.

Kishore said...

Possibly Oct.18 1974 was a holiday for the newspaper on account of Deepavali.

VJ said...

Thanks Chaturvasi, I thought the same , but had a doubt 'cause Admiral's worksheet, which is seen next to the paper clippings, looked a lot whiter.

Deepak Gopinath said...

Hats of to the Admiral. Great research Shuchi. I wish you could have added a photograph of the Admiral.

How come the manuscripts were still with the Admiral, did he make a second copy to send to The HINDU? I am not sure if there were photostat machines in those days.

Chaturvasi said...

These must be working sheets. After having filled-in the grid, clues have been written out by hand. The Admiral must have got the drafts typed out and sent them to the paper.

Venkatesh said...

Very informative article. The fraternity of Crossword Solvers owes its immense gratitude to Shri G Kasthuri for identifying the interest in Admiral and persuading him to take up the challenging assignment of contributing as a setter.

The first crossword shows it as a daily one. There was some time immediately thereafter when it was appearing on alternate days. It will be interesting to trace the 'evolution' of this 'Daily Crossword'.

Shuchi said...

Very interesting to read all your comments, thank you!

@Colonel: On your suggestion I have added a closer shot of the photo in the photo at the Heritage Hall. I would have loved a picture of the Admiral with crosswords, but none such was available...at least this picture shows him in a casual setting.

Chaturvasi said...

Yes, it started out as a six-days-a-week crossword (Mon to Sat).
If after some years it appeared only on Mon, Wed and Fri for a couple of years, it was not because the Admiral could not keep up with the supplies but because there was acute shortage of newsprint and the paper's page level was reduced and as a consequence features were scaled down to keep nothing out completely.

Unknown said...

This is Lalita Ramdas, daughter of the late Admiral, having read through with interest and nostalgia the wonderful and evocative exchange of comments and information from so many of you crossword aficionado s! Having also married another sea farer, who also rose to be an Admiral and headed the Navy as the eleventh chief of Naval Staff ( my father was the first!), it was only in recent years that I was able to turn my attention to sorting out all these treasures and memorabilia. And as I wrote to Shuchi, it was wonderful that I found the bundles of originals lying in a cardboard box in an un- opened trunk in the garage!! I had hoped that the Hindu would have run a reprint of his crosswords in this his Centenary year. But my letters and requests did not meet with much response. Now perhaps with these testimonies thanks to Shuchi's blog we could try again.

And yes, you are absolutely right, my father, who finally died of Motor Neuron disease found he was slowly finding it difficult to hold the pencil and keep it steady. That is when he requested Commodore Norman Warner, another retired Naval person, who also lived in Sainik Puri , Secunderabad, if he would like to help him out.

For those awaiting the copy of the puzzle, I hope to get it done soon and will send it to Shuchi in the next day or two.

C.G. BHARGAV said...

The names Ravi and Tehzeeb Katari rang a bell. Years back they had their clothing factory in Pughs Road, Chennai and I supplied a few air-conditioners to them!

Kishore said...

It gets curiouser and curiouser. I had come across the curious case of Col.Gopinath's wife having the surname Gopinath before and after marriage. Now, it turns out Adm Ram Dass Katari's daughter married Ramdas (later Adm). Wow!