Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Blankey Clock

In 1948, Murthi (Anna) stood first in the 1st year of BSc (Tech). At the same time an unknown benefactor died and left some money to help fund the education of a student.  As a result, Murthi was the recipient of a scholarship of 24/month for a year. A princely sum of money!

Being a sensible young man, not yet 20, he wanted to spend this money on the right things, starting with the first 24/-.  His best friend and adviser, Nagarajan, who was a whole year older than him, and with whom he competed to stand 1st in class, was called upon to help make the decision. After much research, including multiple trips to the library, discussions, and arguments, Nagarajan & Murthi decided to buy an alarm clock.  

Alarm clocks in the 1940s were
expensive and rare.

  Most were imported.
After multiple visits to P.Orr & Sons in Madras and a detailed cost analysis, Murthi bought a Blankey Alarm Clock.  It was made in France (India became independent in 1947 and that may have influenced this purchase).  The clock was round & green, with a little chromium carry-handle on top.  It stood on two angled feet. The keys to wind the clock, set time and alarm were on the chromium-plated back of the clock.  I am describing the clock, as Blankey the company, does not exist anymore & I have been unable to find a picture of the clock.  After you read this story, you will know why.

The alarm clock, a prized possession, worked as it should for 8 – 9 months. One day out of the blue, it stopped working. Murthi & Nagarajan tried everything they could think of - wind the key till they could feel the resistance of the spring, put a book under one leg so that it tilted at an angle, shake it, bang it on the table, cajole it - but it would not work.

Started in 1846 by Peter Orr(Scotland). 
They then took it back to P.Orr & Sons to be repaired (it cost them 10/-!!)  The clock worked for a full 4 days after which it stopped again.

Murthi was so upset that he placed the clock face down on his study table.  Lo and behold, the sound of the seconds ticking by could be heard again.  The Blankey clock kept perfect time and the alarm rang only when it was face down!

A few days later, Murthi “generously” gifted the clock to Nagarajan, on the pretext that Nagarajan needed to get up earlier and study harder, to be able to beat Murthi in the next exam. Murthi hoped the clock would soon fail and not wake up Nagarajan in time to study. Murthi was also relieved to get rid of the clock that so disappointed him.  Soon Nagarajan got tired of the "work only when face down" clock and returned it to Murthi.

When Murthi graduated, on his visit home to Erode, he left the offending clock with his father.  His father, KPV, told him not to worry and that he would have the clock repaired.  Every clock repairman in Erode and Namakkal tried to fix the clock.  Each time, KPV would pay them ~₹5/- for the repair.  Each time it would work for a few days.  And when it stopped working, placing it face down was the only way for it to work again.  The clock stayed with KVP for years.

In 1958, Murthi’s younger brother Krishnamurthy, joined ITC.  On a visit to Erode, to see his parents before heading off to Calcutta, Krishnamurthy, with all the confidence of a newly graduated mechanical engineer, took the Blankey Clock to Calcutta.

The Blankey Clock moved into a single room at Komala Villas with Krishnamurthy.  It remained temperamental. Stopping at will. Working only when face down. Being fixed at various watch repair shops.

One Saturday afternoon in summer, Krishnamurthy, returned to his room at lunch time.  The door was open and there was a slightly built man in the room. Krishnamurthy looked at his table. All was where it should be other than the “work only when face down” Blankey Clock. Krishnamurthy looked at the thief and asked him to return whatever he had taken, and the Blankey Clock was returned to Krishnamurthy safely. 

Krishnamurthy used the Blankey Clock as much as he could.  Eventually, many rupees poorer and disgusted by the clock, he took it back to Erode and gave it to his father.

The Blankey Clock languished in Erode for many, many years.  In the mid-60s, Nagarajan visited Murthi’s parents in Erode.  Murthi’s mother, Ananthalakshmi, took Nagarajan aside and asked him if he could help her with something.  Nagarajan immediately agreed - after all he and Murthi had been friends since college!

Ananthalakshmi said, “There is a clock in the house that is not working.  Can you please take it to a large shop in Madras and have it fixed?”  Ananthalakshmi went out of the room for a few minutes and returned with the Blankey Clock held carefully in both her hands.

The story goes that, on seeing the dreaded Blankey Clock, Nagarajan fainted.  He had to be carried to a bench-bed to lie down.  Ananthalakshmi called for sandalwood paste from the God’s Room, mixed it in some cold water, and sprinkled it on Nagarajan’s face to revive him.

What happened after that has been lost in history.  Some of Murthi’s relatives claim that the clock stayed in the house in Erode for many, many years. Many people continued to try to repair it but it never worked. 

The Kalamangalam clan spent a fortune on the clock probably because it was a clock bought with Murthi’s prize money. It had to be cherished “at whatever cost”! Literally!


  1. :) I remember some clocks in our house that have a similar story. Of course they have remained in our family home forever... never traveled outside...
    But this is an amazing story... Sangs!
    Enjoyed reading it and the simple narration is exquisite!

    1. Thanks Pradyum. It is stories like this that become family lore. My uncle, the Krishnamurthy in this story says "Even today just mentioning the word Blankey results in us laughing non-stop while at the same time frightening us that we might have to encounter it again."