Thursday, 22 April 2021

Remembering Chaturvasi / Gridman / Rishi

Gridman / Chaturvasi

I learned of CV Sir’s passing through messages from crossword friends last Wednesday. I had not been in touch with him since over a year, and infrequently even before that.

And yet, his absence feels like a huge personal loss.

I found myself going back to our email exchanges over the years, thinking about how our interactions evolved with time.

I met CV Sir first on Orkut in 2007, before this blog existed. He and TSG (Ganesh) managed a cryptic crossword community there. Joining their community was a transformative experience for me. I felt like a lone Martian stranded on Earth discovering my planet’s settlement.

CV Sir was brimming with ideas for the crossword community. He had a point of view, a distinct personal style, and he was always up for a challenge. My mailbox twelve years ago would find messages like this from him:

Are you game mail

TSG and I would of course go along with the “superannuated man”.

Interestingly, my interactions with CV Sir were not always conflict-free. When I started this blog, CV Sir had strong views about content and writing style and would have liked me to follow them. I did not quite agree and did not follow them. Through the years, I have often sparred with him over what I saw as occasional want of sensitivity in his clue surfaces and social commentary.

His response to non-acquiescence and criticism from someone less experienced than him is something many of us can learn from. He knew how to keep debate civil and never let differences over ideas affect our regard for each other.

CV Sir had great personal pride and childlike enthusiasm, at the same time the groundedness and maturity to seek inputs for improvement. He would reach out when he was unsure about a clue, and would receive suggestions with open-mindedness and appreciation.


(I now googled to check what finally happened with this clue: found that he did revise it.)

Our interactions of late had dwindled to his alerting me to interesting discussions in various forums. This is the last communication I had from him, in 2019 (Viresh – it mentions you):

THCC Spoonerism discussion

Remembering CV Sir has prompted me to reconnect with other crossword friends who knew him since the 200x early internet days. (Anokha - I was unable to reach you. If you read this, please drop me a line, would love to have your inputs too.)

Sharing their thoughts as sent to me:

Ganesh (TSG), THC setter Neyartha:

I got introduced to Mr. Rishikesh in early 2005 through the Orkut Hindu Crossword Community. Around that time-frame (in the early days of social networking), I had just started out graduate school in the US and Orkut was the online meeting-place of choice for youngsters. Having joined it a few months earlier, I created discussion groups for something I used to attempt every day - the daily cryptic crosswords from The Hindu and The Economic Times. Other Indo-centric crosswords discussion fora such as Yahoo! Groups and Mayyam also existed. Mr. Rishikesh was an active participant in all these sites, pitching in to help clarify any questions that members had with the annotations of the clues. In those days, there were few online resources to explain cryptic crosswords, and Mr. Rishikesh's posts helped drive up the analytical capabilities of the forum members significantly. As one of the administrators of the Orkut communities, I developed a personal line of communication with Mr. Rishikesh, as he provided inputs on how to make the communities more appealing. Slowly, I sharpened my crossword skills enough to act as a test solver for the puzzles he was contributing to The Hindu. This gradually helped me to start writing clues and eventually prepare puzzles for private events. Mr. Rishiskesh was already quite adept at using technology for his crossword compilation tasks, and I was able to share findings from my own research (in terms of software tools) for him to evaluate further.

In early 2006, I made my first visit to India after joining grad school. I took the opportunity to meet up with Mr. Rishikesh in person at his residence in Gopalapuram, Chennai along with a few fellow enthusiasts as part of a 'Chennai Orkut Crosswords Club Meet' - a precursor to the THCC meets that pop up now and then on The Hindu Crossword Corner. We had an enjoyable discussion, and Mr. Rishikesh also gifted me a few crossword books from his collection.

After I flew back to the US, I continued to act as a test solver for Mr. Rishikesh's puzzles while slowly building up a library of my own compilations with his guidance and mentorship. The retirement of a few puzzle contributors to The Hindu around the end of 2007 opened up slots for new compilers, and Mr. Rishikesh was kind enough to recommend my name to the publishers for the same. I am indebted to Mr. Rishikesh for opening up this opportunity - his encouragement and inputs have enabled me to keep improving at my job over the course of 14+ years and 240+ puzzles.

With the development in our personal rapport, we exchanged family visits whenever I was in India. He also graced my wedding with his presence in 2008, and called up with personal wishes after the birth of my daughter. Over the last few years, as my trips to India became more spaced apart, our communication was limited to regular e-mails. I used to send each puzzle compiled for The Hindu to Mr. Rishikesh for vetting. He graciously took time out to point out inconsistencies and issues with the clues, if any.

His passing has left me, as well as the global cruciverbalist community, bereft of a treasured guide. His online contributions (including his comments in The Hindu Crossword Corner blog posts over the last couple of years) were always courteous, mild-mannered, and witty - a combination of qualities that has become difficult to find in today's online discourses. He will be fondly remembered by many, and his public posts will continue to guide crossword enthusiasts well into the future.

Tony Sebastian, THC ex-setter Cryptonyte:

Long ago, in a time before Facebook, IPL, and Crossword Unclued, a 19 year old put up an amateurish crossword (with a skeleton he has copied) on his blog with the 30 minutes internet access he had in the college library. Little did he know that a few squares in black and white in an obscure corner of the internet would summon a real life superhero - Gridman!

That's how I first interacted with CG Rishikesh AKA Chaturvasi AKA Gridman and TBH, I was in awe. A few words of encouragement, a nudge to try creating skeletons, and efficient guidance from a superstar in the Indian crossword scene like Gridman is an unimaginable feat in any field today. And yet, he made no big deal out of it. He pointed out nuances and ways of improving from time to time though he was by his own admission "up to eyebrows in work". But he continued to guide me and the many others around him, always hoping that there would be new and original setters from India.

Looking back now, the kindness, patience, and guidance he gave a young setter he had never met or known in person, was rare and very special. And special is what Gridman was. The many who know him from the crosswords he's set will know him as fair and approachable for 20 years. To me, he was a guide and mentor who pushed me to keep improving my clues, nudging me to seek all possible avenues to publish my crosswords. A gentle guide who reminded me that he himself got an opportunity to set a crossword for The Hindu only in his third decade(!) of setting grids. And in the end, made sure that I and several better setters did get our chance to put our pseudonyms in The Hindu.

Time sometimes moves too fast, and at other times too slow. And rarely, you find moments when you wished it would stand still - where everything was black and white. With one fair clue and only one correct answer. With a beautiful, symmetric grid and the man who took pride in making them all just right. Go well, Gridman. You've left us, but you've made sure we're not clueless.

Anish Madhavan (Maddy), THC ex-setter Spiffytrix:

As I try to wrap my head around the terrible news, I am transported back in time some 12-13 years ago, when my first interactions with CV Sir began over the Orkut groups, Col’s blog, Crossword Unclued followed by many many exchanges over emails. The lively discussions over the small Orkut group while solving/commenting on an old Times crossword (syndicated in The Hindustan Times) are among my fondest memories from that era. His contributions to popularizing crosswords and making it accessible is unparalleled and the fact that there is now a respected sub genre of original Indian crosswords with a desi feel and tadka is all credit to him.

It was CV Sir who molded and morphed me into a setter from a casual solver. In fact, I just realized I was one of the very first setters, if not the first, who got empaneled for the Hindu Crossword purely due to his mentoring and recommendation. Once I ceased setting/regular solving of crosswords in the last 7-8 years due to my work commitments and busy schedule, our regular correspondences also petered out till we reconnected about a few months back. How I wish I could turn the clock back and make amends for not being in regular touch for so many years.

Gridman going off the grid is truly the passing of an era. But his legacy will live on not just through his impressive volume of work but also through the work of many many others whom he has mentored and converted into setters. Au revoir Sir, you will be missed, They don’t make ’em like you anymore.

Richard Lasrado, THCC regular:

The news of our dear Rishi's passing away was a shocker. We had become friends pretty much before we met in person. I had happened to bump into Col Deepak's blog by sheer chance, a few months after it was launched. The earliest regular participants in the daily discussion were CV, Suresh Dorbala, Shuchi and a few others.

Having been a cryptic crossie aficionado since college days, I too began chipping in with my two-pence. Whenever there was a difference of opinion or doubt, Chaturvasi aka CV had the last word. As time rolled, I got to discover the genius in him. We began to regularly communicate by email. Both of us having had the background of journalism might have led to a strong rapport being built between us. The _nom de plume_ Chaturvasi had impressed me to the core. He breathed and lived within the confines or protocol of the _chatur_ (four) corners of the crossword grid. In one of his initial emails alone, he revealed an additional facet of his identity. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that one of the most popular setters on The Hindu panel, Gridman, was none other than CV himself. That took my admiration for him a few notches higher.

Before I first met CV, I somehow had visualized him as a tall, well-built man with a booming voice. But our first conversation changed all that in entirety. Here was a fine gentleman, soft-spoken in nature and receptive in temperament.

Although I drifted away from crossword-related activities during the last few years, I was in communication with CV through e-mail. There was a motive, call it selfish or whatever. For many years, I have been planning to bring out a book. I could not think of a more suitable person to edit and fine-tune the text than Chaturvasi. He graciously agreed to do it for me. But, alas, he has left this world, with a question mark looming large on my project.

Fare thee well, CV. I am sure you are not the one who would rest quietly. You may have found many other crossie enthusiasts already, with an old acquaintance like Raju Umamaheswar in company, to engage others in the battle of words. Om Shanti: Brother!
Col Gopinath of THCC:
I am still getting used to the fact that Rishi is no longer with us. It came to me as a rude shock.

He was amongst the first few to have commented on my blog and had been taking keen interest in the upkeep and well-being of the blog. He had sent me a message just a few days ago on the 11th pointing out a spelling mistake. He would sound me out occasionally on unwanted comments on the blog even though he had full admin rights.

His dedication to crosswords was unparalleled and he was in touch with me even while in hospital during his illness in March.

His absence will be a great personal loss to me and my blog.

CV Sir, you will be deeply missed. I am remembering your full-throated laughter as I write this and breaking into a smile.

Chaturvasi with DS
Pic above: at Col's home (2010): CV Sir on the right, Dr DS on the left.

Links to guest posts written by CV Sir on this blog:

More about Gridman / Chaturvasi from the blog archives:

Tributes from other sites:

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Sowmya said...

Lovely tribute to a warm and friendly person, a personal friend and guide who I will really miss interacting with on all crossword related stuff. He leaves behind a rich legacy and many fine memories for all of us to re-live and relish.

Vasant said...

Fitting tributes to one of the nicest human beings.

C.G. BHARGAV said...

He was like a beacon light for many young and upcoming setters.

Col_Gopinath said...

Great post Shuchi. I still wait in vain for his frequent calls on some issue related to my blog, he would start off 'The point is .....

Vasant said...

Thank you Shuchi for all the links..I thought I had covered all your posts but I missed this "Books crossword setters used in days bygone". Fascinating to read. Alas, I had only "Penguin Crossword Dictionary" and the Bradford before internet made all these meaningless..nevertheless I do yearn for Chamber's crossword Manual and the latest BRB

Lakshmi Vaidyanathan said...

Nice tribute for a great person, our mentor. We will miss him :(