Reminiscing Childhood Memories of Old Mysore…

By Girija Madhavan

I was born in 1938 in a house now called “Sahy­adri,” the first of the four large Railway Bungalows that still stand facing KRS Road in Vani Vilas Mo­halla, diagonally opposite Cheluvamba Park. In those days, it was known as the Loco Superintendent’s Bun­galow. A Scotswoman, Dr. Gillespie of the Mission [or Holdsworth Memorial] Hospital, attended on the birth, in the front left bedroom with the window with wooden shade [called a ‘Monkey Top’]. The house was allotted to my father, M. Venkatesh, who was an engineer of the old ‘Mysore State Railways.’ It was a colonial bun­galow set in a large garden of trees, flowering bushes and creepers. The cork tree my mother, Mukta Ven­katesh, painted still retains its grace. The small mango tree by the gate that I climbed as a four-year-old is now a spreading, mature one.

A portico festooned with creepers shaded the latticed verandah that led into the house which had large rooms and a raftered ceiling. Two oval portraits, framed in rose­wood, of elderly men looked down from the walls; my two grandfathers.

Mahadeva SasthriThis stern visage capped by a Mysore Peta was that of my paternal grandfather, A. Ma­hadeva Shastri, a Sanskrit schol­ar, Curator of the Oriental Library of Mysore in the 1920s. The other [a companion portrait, now lost] of a man with curling hair, dark eyes and flaring nostrils, was my mater­nal grandfather, A. Madhavaiah, a novelist who wrote both in Tamil and English in the 1900s, a social reformer and a colourful character. I was born many years after they died.

An early memory is of sitting on the front step under the roof of the portico and watching a long golden snake undulating past.I was surprised at the fuss that ensued when I recount­ed what I had seen. A snake catcher was sent for. Acrid smoke billowed from the fire he set under the jasmine creepers. The snake was found in an outhouse. When held up by its tail, it regurgitated five semi-digested frogs. The gardener, Thimmanna, insisted on killing it. He cre­mated it after pouring milk over the carcass to appease the spirit of the snake- god whom he called ‘Nagappa.’

Railway bungalowThose were days of the Second World War. I would perch on the garden fence and watch British Army jeeps and motor cycles go by, soldiers on furlough from the Cantonment in Bangalore on their way to the Krishna­raja Sagara (KRS) Dam for rest and recreation in the big hotel there. The gardener tried to get me to scream ‘Bili Kothi’ [White Monkey] at them as they roared past. They were locally known as ‘Taamies’ [for Tommies].

Processions of young people with flags, shouting slo­gans were activists of the Quit India Movement and would some­times march down the street. The Police dealt harshly with them. H.Y. Sharada Prasad was my sister’s col­lege-mate and participated in the protests. He was badly injured in a lathi charge and everyone was very con­cerned about him.

Mysore had lovely parks, tree-lined roads and little traffic. An Ursu friend of my father would pay an early morning call, riding into the garden on his horse, a fine animal which snorted and stamped its feet. The parks beyond the Palace, named Shalimar and Nishat Bagh by Sir Mirza Ismail, were well-maintained. In what is now called Kuppanna Park, there was a Bandstand with a dome of exquisite art deco panels, sadly all gone now, where the Palace and Police Bands would sometime play in the evenings.

Huli vasha paintingHardinge Circle was not the octopus-horror of traffic lights and crossroads that it is now. There were wedge-shaped little lawns bordered by flower bed in the Cir­cle. In the centre, a large fountain threw up cascades of water, glittering, crystal clear in the day, illuminated with coloured lights at night, ethereal blue changing, chame­leon-like, to green, orange and red. People would park their cars in the Circle and watch the fountain play.

I recall the arrival of a troupe of Tiger Dancers or “Huli Vesha.” Accompanied by drum beats, a group of young men and boys would take up positions around the por­tico ready for the dancers to begin their act, in honour of the Goddess Sharada. Painted over with yellow body paint, bellies marked in soft white colour, black tiger markings artistically brushed on, clad in loincloths and hair held back in black scarves, they somersaulted into the Circle. Arms and legs flailing, they jabbed and feint­ed at each other, faces set in a rictus of snarling ferocity while I watched with frissons of fear and fascination from behind the lattice. After a time, suitably rewarded, they would go to the next house in the line.

child watching snake paintingVillage drums can still be heard in Mysuru for a temple festivity or folk event, but in my childhood they could also augur something more sinister and serious: funerals, ep­idemics and the need to propitiate the Gods. Close to the railway housing complex were the villages of Von­tikoppal [the lone village] and Paduvarahalli, forming an urban-rural overlap. Here the village drums rang out not only for festivities but also to appease Mariamma, the controlling deity of pestilence and good fortune. Some­times it was the announcement of the start of an epidem­ic, when the drum beat was different, with an underlying menace, a whine from the drumstick being drawn across the taut leather of the drum after the initial stroke.

Girija mahadevanGirija Madhavan is the wife of retired Indian Ambassador A. Madhavan and daughter of Mukta Venkatesh, the wellknown painter and poet, who lived for 101 years, painting to the last. Like her mother Mukta, Girija Madhavan, is also a painter. The Madhavan couple reside in Yadavagiri, Mysurusi.