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Spreading the good word

V.R. Damaraj is the man responsible for popularising the game of Scrabble all over the country, especially amongst children.



WORD BUILDING: V. R. Damaraj shows children the intricacies of the game. — Photo: Satish H

I AM a product of love, like anybody else. So many people loved me so much however undeserving I was.

The list includes, cats, birds, dogs and humans. Not necessarily in the same order.

I studied in a municipal school, where shirt was not compulsory. I clearly remember those primary school days when I used to take a joyride on our milkmaid's buffalo to go to school.

Secondary school was real fun. Four teachers I have grateful remembrance for. Our English teacher - Mr. Pulipaka Ramakrishna Murthy, Maths - Mr. Bhavamachari, Sports - Mr. Ramabrahma and Telugu - Mr. Ambadipudi, known as `Pothana'. He used to dread the demonic prospect of anybody adding an extra `o' to his moniker.

They laced their teaching with decorum, humour and love. But none dropped a hint of adulthood - a tragedy every child must go through. Chartered Accountancy, next. The glamour misled me. Nevertheless, I had already plunged in and there was no way my parents would allow me to discontinue mid-way.

Study of Law was interesting and exciting, thanks to Mr. Balkishan Rathi, who taught us Constitutional Law. Then, a job followed in a big plant and a stay in a remote township. I got along in a group with four other engineers in the office, whose wavelength and financial standings, reasonably matched mine.

As all happy-go-lucky bachelors, our finances were hovering, by the third week of every month, between imminent bankruptcy and absolute financial disaster. And creative, we were not. So, we took to Scrabble. I learned so many words from the four. Public Sector Undertakings are run like any other third rate departments of the Government.

The sooner one leaves, the better are one's chances of becoming a father. Wholesale privatisation and horsewhipping of socialists are still in the realm of Utopia. I Left the job for good and took up the game of Scrabble more seriously. Shaken by the death of one of my four friends in a freak accident, conducted a Scrabble Tournament in his memory.

It was a huge success. Scrabble as a game was already popular in India but only at the home front. Indians were not familiar with the concept of playing it with strangers - whereas all over the world, there were National Championships for individual countries and a World Scrabble Championship (WSC) every two years. Buoyed by the initial success, I went around so many cities and conducted Scrabble Tourneys, formed local clubs to popularise the game.

The World Body for Scrabble allowed for the first time, two Indians to compete in the WSC, 1999 at Perth, Australia. Four Research Scholars, all MBA's whom I paid a pittance as allowance to work for me, in my pursuit of popularising Scrabble, made all this possible. There was a bonus awaiting me - of which I was initially not aware - in the form of children in various cities. The way they blossom from game to game and the phenomenal speed with which they picked up words and the alacrity with which they recall them was pleasantly alarming. This gave me an important insight - the constituency I should work after.

Now, so many children are giving the adults a run for their `Koupeena Samrakshana', I am sure one of them will crack that elusive pot of gold - World Championship - either in 2003 or latest by 2005.

But who will pay for the travel and stay of Indians for the WSC. Last time, not a single adult player volunteered to contribute one rupee.

The same four MBA guys from Hyderabad contributed a modest sum. Some children came forward to contribute about Rs 10 per head.

One boy told me he would "jawbone" his dad to part with Rs 100. I liked the expression `jawbone' (attempt to convince). Children indeed are a pleasant deviation from the tragedy - that is adulthood. I spend most of my time with children.

I just cannot explain my happiness when I see children whom I have taught the game smash me and even respectable adults, with years of experience.

Every morning by about 5.50 a.m., one dozen cranes are kind enough to navigate towards Shameerpet lake. Every time, I see them, they remind me of children. And children remind me of Salim Ali, Ornithologist.

(More info about Scrabble is available at www.zygoclubs.com. I can be contacted by email at vrdamaraj@hotmail.com)

V.R. DAMARAJ

(The writer is the founder of Zygo Scrabble.)

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