Co-Cruciverbalists of Yesteryear

COME AGAIN?! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? Legitimate questions from anyone not in the know – which probably means everyone, except a wonderfully brainy in-law of mine who passed away a year ago on August the 4th in Dehra Dun, India, and, of course, a not-so-endowed-with-gray-matter-yours-truly of Englewood, New Jersey. USA.

Co-conspirators abound in this world of ours – ancient and modern, so why not curry favor with those of a less heinous bent of mind who spend their leisure hours pursuing a peaceful activity with pen and paper that opens up hidden avenues of ‘across’ and ‘down’ clues very often into uncharted territories of weird words, unusual grammar and out-of-date usages in obsolete vocabulary.

I am. of course, speaking of co-cruciverbalists, a clan of crossword fans, who are sharply divided between know-alls that blatantly use pen-and-ink only, and those poor mortals who are perforce led to scratch their answers laboriously with a sharp pencil and an ever-present eraser poised at the ready.

Shanti Varma, known best in her homeland for being the redoubtable principal of the well-known boarding school –  Welhams Girls’ School – for many years until she succumbed to cancer in 2017, was my wife Lolita’s younger sister.

Over many decades, Shanti (right), Lolita (center) and Bob (left, my brother-in-law)  – seen above in the back garden of the Varma’s bungalow in Dehra Dun – kept in touch, both in India and the United States, and invariably Shanti and I would get in a huddle to swap some arcane word or other verbal oddity, just for the heck of it.

We both admired the British version of the Daily Crossword found in the London Times and reproduced in India in its English-language newspapers, such as The Statesman in New Delhi and Calcutta. But in the States I became used to the New York Times Crossword, starting with my years in Rochester, NY and now decades later in Englewood, NJ.

We both agreed that the American penchant for a plethora of commercial product proper names that besprinkle the eventual clues does not improve ones knowledge of modern British or American English, but assumes that you’re a fierce and dedicated mall denizen.

Not so long ago, I might pause over a phone to call India in the off chance of finding out what would be the answer to a particular clue only to realize that I’d have to depend on other less reliable means of arriving at a correct response to my cruciverbal query.

And so it goes……………………

References: My Diary and Photo Album

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