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The Draughtsman from Scotland

N. Karunakaran

In our life we come across individuals who help to shape our character, the general outlook on life and also our way of thinking. My life has not been an exception. As a student at Hartley I was fortunate to have studied under some versatile and dedicated teachers who motivated me to do well in life. And I am thankful to God for it. In this article I would like to introduce you to a person whom I met in The Hague, the administrative capital of the Netherlands. His influence on me has been a significant one. And a rewarding one at that.

In October 1971, I began my life as a post-graduate student at Delft, The Netherlands. And I was boarded in a Pension Hall in The Hague and commuted by tram to Delft. It was the beginning of winter, the air was cold and the sky overcast for most of the time. For me it was a drastic change not only weather-wise but mainly because of the absence of friends and relatives. It was in this setting that I met John O’Hara. He was a Scot and a draughtsman by profession. And he was working for Aramco, the oil company in The Hague. He too like me was an inmate of the same Pension Hall.

John was a lively character, well read, and who loved good food. To keep himself physically fit he would walk four to five kilometres everyday, weather permitting. Being a typical Scot, he was very frugal! And he was brilliant at solving cryptic crosswords. After work in the evening he would walk straight into the restaurant at the Pension Hall with that day’s Daily Telegraph, a daily from UK. While taking his meal he would also tackle the cryptic crossword from the Daily Telegraph. In my case, while being seated next to him at the same table, I would eat my food and at the same time scan the sports pages of Daily Telegraph for the cricket scores and other sports news.

One day, John wanted my help in solving a clue from that day’s crossword! I can still remember that clue. It read as: sunset nay for an eastern leader (3 words). To me who was used to solving simple straightforward crosswords, it was a different kettle of fish. So I told John that it was beyond me. But John was not the type of person who would take no for an answer. Then he started explaining to me that the clue was an anagram of sunset nay and that the solution should be the name of a famous leader from the East. This made me think in real earnest. And I realised that it could be a Chinese name. Then, I remembered the name of Sun Yat-Sen, the Chinese statesman and Revolutionary. John was delighted.

The formation of a word by transposing the letters of another word or a phrase, fascinated me. And when I conveyed this to John, what he told me was: “Well, if you are willing then I can teach you the basics of cryptic crossword.” Now, after thirty-six years of ‘crossword pleasure’, my appetite for crossword puzzles has not diminished. And especially after coming over to this Country, it has grown by leaps and bounds!

What started as a casual dinner time activity, way back in 1972, now keeps me turning the pages of dictionaries, encyclopaedia and all sorts of books, on a regular basis. All because of an affable fellow from Edinburgh, in Scotland, by the name of John O’Hara, whom I met in the Dutch city of The Hague.

(Karunakaran: Student at Hartley from 1952 to 1961; Index Number – 6131; Sherrard House. Five of his classmates who entered Hartley in 1952 went on to represent Our Alma Mater at cricket and football)

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