Oct 7 2009

My mother had some errands to run in the commercial part of town which dovetailed neatly with my plan of wandering around that area. Its the oldest, but still the busiest part of Mysore and both facets are in abundant evidence. Traffic is unnervingly, and maddeningly chaotic. When I lived here a little over two decades ago, this was a part of town that I’d avoid like the plague, because of how crowded I thought it was at the time. However, I can honestly say that upon reflection, the traffic of those days comes across as almost suburban in comparison to what it is today. It is not an experience that can adequately be captured in a series of photographs accompanied by paragraphs that attempt to put the scenes in “perspective”. There is probably no unique perspective to anything that goes on amidst the chaos, and at times sheer madness, but it is a rich thick slice of life in a busy Indian city and something that one can only experience in person.

I am glad that over the past couple of decades, I have matured – the hung jury on this account notwithstanding – to at least the extent that I can see beyond all of the things that put me off then and actually appreciate the experience for what it is. It is a collection of several teaching moments in the school of life. There is something profoundly moving about a sea of humanity surging back and forth in waves of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, all engaged in peaceful commerce and something akin to what the founders of the Unites States called the “pursuit of happiness”. Despite the undeniably harsh conditions and congestion, people find compelling reasons to show up here every day and to remain productive, exuberant and motivated.

This sort of scene is certainly not unique to Mysore or even India. As I walked amidst the crowd converging onto the area adjacent to Devaraja Market, I had this chilling awareness of what it must have felt like on a sunny day in a market in Baghdad, with people buying and selling things, engaging one another in chatter and laughter, moments before a bomb did what bombs always do – chip away at the edifice of humanity. We are tremendously fortunate to live in a safer world here. As I blended in and out of the crowds, taking pictures, no one hassled me or even yelled at me to get out of the way. It was almost as if they accepted me as just another ingredient in their pot – as one of them. For that I am grateful and humbled beyond words. I promise to step off my soapbox now.

KRC_1Krishnaraja Circle or K.R. Circle as everybody in Mysore calls it. People in this (Karnataka) state really love their abbreviations! – B.R. Hills, H.D. Kote, J.P. Nagar are just some of them. Two of Mysore’s busiest commercial streets Devaraj Urs Road and SayyajiRao Road run into K.R. Circle. Trust me when I say that the area at the time was far busier than it appears to be in the photo. Had I taken the picture a split second later, I’d have had a wall of people and vehicles blocking the entire scene.

The statue at the center of the circle is that of the former Maharaja of Mysore, KrishnaRaja Wodeyar IV who appears by all accounts to have been one of the more enlightened figures of royalty.

KRC_4The influence of Mughal architecture is evident in many monuments built by both Hindu and British administrations prior to India’s independence from British rule in 1947. The dome atop K.R. Circle is an example. So it appears that while the Brits and Hindu kings may have cooperated to purge the last vestiges of Islamic rule in South India, they rather wisely decided not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Lansdowne Building a historic Mysore landmark. This ancient complex is home to several stationers and bookshops that are institutions in themselves. The building has been declared a heritage sight and is therefore off limits to developers who would bulldoze it down in a jiffy and erect a characterless utilitarian cuboid in its place. However, very little money has actually been earmarked for its maintenance.

LD_3Here’s another view of Lansdowne Building further down the street. It would break my heart if this marvelous relic of ancient Mysore were to disappear.

RajkamalRajkamal Theatre or as many locals call it, “Rajkamal Talkies”, smack bad in the heart of the bustling Shivrampet business district. The use of the term “Talkies” to refer to a cinema theater is an enduring and endearing Mysorism. The Kannada movie being screened is “Maga Dhira” which means “Bold Son”. The average Mainstream Kannada movie can be a Tour-de-Force in histrionics featuring some of the most egregious hammy overacting in the history of the theatre, not to mention a soundtrack featuring screechy female voices. I would require the sort of pleasant buzz one gets from a few pints of beer (with perhaps the odd sake-bomb thrown in!) before I could sit through about 20 minutes of one. So I’ll just wish the “bold son” well and hope he survives that motorcycle stunt without a helmet, unscathed.

Tree Shrine
Old Mysore is full of decrepit religious street-shrines like this. I was a bit circumspect about photographing this lest I offend the sensitivity of the Hindu faithful who’ve been an edgy bunch lately, but Raghu (my mum’s driver) assured me that there wouldn’t be any repercussions. He wasn’t quite sure as to which god the shrine was intended for, or whether it was manned or unmanned.

DCOThe Office of the Divisional Commissioner. According to this article, the post of Divisional Commissioner was “abolished, but recreated with a different name”. Brilliant! I’m going to go out on a limb and say that like the Mysore Palce, the architecture of the DC’s office is Indo-Sarcenic, but I’ll perform some due diligence in this regard.

We stopped by my cousin Indira’s office at the university of Mysore. She’s a professor of sociology and a Fullbright scholar. She is also at the forefront of the feminist movement in South India. She now heads the Department of International Studies. She is an exemplary role model for young women worldwide and I am proud to call her my older sister. She has always gone to bat for me. When I was a teenager and almost everybody else dismissed me (not entirely without foundation) as a good-for-nothing wastrel, she would defend me with passion. I hope that in the decades since, I’ve given her at the very minimum, a modicum of vindication. If not, its back to the drawing boards!

Indira Office
Indira and my mum relax on the couch in her spacious office. I still remember the cubbyhole she had as a lecturer in the dept of sociology 30 years ago! My big sis is now a big shot!

Raghu, Varun and I went to Planet X, an indoor/outdoor game arena. We bowled, played air hockey and went Go-Kart Racing. I won all events! Beating a 13 year old kid at Go-Kart racing is obviously not something for which I should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour, but Raghu has done some stock car racing in real life! He’s also a rock climbing instructor. He’s promised to teach me the basics the next time I’m in town. Later we had dinner in the excellent cafe at Planet-X. I had the “Peppered Mutton Fry” (spicy, but delicious) and some fresh piping hot Tandoori chicken and a Butter-Naan (does it count if a non-believer declares it “heavenly”?!) They have a very neat 18 hole Put-Put golf course here with some really interesting obstacles!

Chamundi Hill
Tomorrow we’re going up Chamundi Hill seen here from Planet X.

Varun left with his grandma (my cousin) for Mangalore (with an M, not a B) tonight. So I’m going to be starved for intellectual company! Who else will discuss wall-rebound attacks in Prince-of-Persia, with me?!

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