Right from my child hood, that is nearly half a century down my memory lane, Mysore has been our favourite (rather, the only) holiday destination. I was in the city recently for yet another holiday and went out for a walk in the morning earlier than usual. My destination was the Kukkarahalli lake and instead of walking on the main road to the Manasagangotri end of the lake, I decided to go along the interior roads of Saraswatipuram and reach the other end. The wide streets of this well laid out locality, with many quaint houses having a curved frontage and metal mesh windows adding to the charm, are always a pleasure to walk. It was still dark and the light from the street lights, filtered by the canopy of the trees lining the streets, mixed with the light flowing out from the occasional open door provided the right amount of illumination. One or two ladies were already out washing their front yard prior to laying the traditional ‘Rangoli’ designs. There were no street dogs to bark at me and make me turn around and run for my life. Two wheelers and four wheelers were yet to roll on to the streets and disturb the carpet of flowers which the trees had spread under them overnight.
Almost all the trees were in bloom and walking under them in the cool atmosphere enjoying the fragrance was a wonderful experience. The paper boys and the milk suppliers were still busy loading their bicycles and TVS 50s with their wares and yet to take to the streets. I walked along breathing deep to fill my lungs with as much of the fragrance as possible and emerged onto the Kantharaj Urs road near the Saraswatipuram fire station.
This fire station building, remaining as it was half a century ago, is at the center of my childhood memories of Mysore. My maternal uncle stayed on the Swimming pool road to the left of this station (now called Mahabhodi Road) and one of my aunts was on the third cross, just a street away, to the right of the same building. We moved a lot between these two places every day passing in front of or behind the building but spent most of our time on the street in front of my uncle’s house where there was almost zero traffic and plenty of shade from the ‘copper pod’ trees which were full of yellow flowers and chirping birds. We played outside most of the time and when we felt like, ran inside to help ourselves from the cluster of Bananas which hung in a corner of the bedroom. I am partial to the Banana fruit and we have always had a bunch containing about a dozen in our house. But my uncle used to buy a whole cluster of eight to ten dozens and hang them in a corner. It was a novelty and a great experience to pluck the fruits from the cluster and eat them. Like plucking them out of the plant itself! Mysore has provided many such memories that I cherish but two of them stand out.
One was the episode of our hunting a parrot and the other was my learning to ride a bicycle.
The majority of the birds that were there on the tree in front of my uncle’s place were what we called ‘Parrots’. They could be ‘Parakeets’. Green birds with red beaks. We, myself and my cousin, were very keen to ‘hunt’ one. It may be because we wanted to see the effectiveness of the hand held ‘Catapults’ which we made using the fork of a small tree and rubber bands or may be because we wanted to test our prowess as hunters. It is possible that we only intended to hit and capture a parrot for keeping it as a pet. Whatever it was, we made a catapult especially for the purpose, using strips of rubber from an old cycle tube instead of rubber bands - for more power- and tested its accuracy by firing it on empty boxes. Having found it suitable for the purpose, we stood under the tree armed and ready. We selected a small pebble of the right shape and size, loaded the weapon, selected an unfortunate bird, aimed and shot. I was wielding the weapon. Having previous experience of the accuracy of my aim, we expected nothing to happen or just a flower or a few dry leaves to fall down. But to our utter disbelief and surprise, something small and feathery fell from the tree to the ground with a soft plop. We ran there and to our horror, found, instead of a happy and singing parrot ready to be our pet, a bleeding tiny yellow bird writhing in pain. As expected, my aim had missed the parrot but the pebble must have hit this bird. The sight of the tiny bird in agony, with blood oozing from its stomach deflated our valour in an instant and we were now full of remorse and were eager to save its life.
To get out of our guilt we concluded that the bird was not hit by my stone but had been attacked by a crow exactly at the time when I had shot the catapult (even today I believe that was what exactly happened) and we tenderly carried the bird into the house. Evading his mother’s enquiries with vague answers, my cousin managed to procure a cardboard box, some cooked rice and a small receptacle for water. We lined the box with some cloth pieces, laid the bird in the box, placed rice and water next to it and waited for it to eat, drink and recover. It opened its eyes, looked at us (or may be we imagined that it did), tried to get on to its legs, collapsed and died. There was nothing else we could do. We cursed the crow, broke the catapult into pieces and conducted a solemn funeral for the bird behind the house.
Learning to ride a bicycle was a pleasurable and painful experience. What I mean is that the experience was a pleasure but the body had to endure considerable pain. Another cousin of mine who was much older than us and was a research graduate at the Mysore University then, had gone home for vacation and he had left his bicycle with my uncle for safe keeping. It was safe - till my sight fell on it. The presence of an ownerless bicycle lying unused triggered the dormant desire to learn cycling and I embarked up on it with gusto. I was found attached to this bicycle all my waking hours for the next week or so with a single minded devotion to the cause, almost matching Ekalavya. And, just like him, I did not have any ‘guru’ to teach me cycling.
The learning procedure was to push the bike to the top of the slope – the road in front of my uncle’s place was a slope beginning next to the fire station and ending at the intersection of this road with the one coming from the swimming pool, where there was a circle. (Now known as the JSS circle) – and then try to roll down the slope standing with the left foot on the left pedal and the right foot hanging freely, to learn ‘balancing’ the bicycle. Once that was achieved, the next step was to insert the right leg through the center of the triangular bicycle frame and get hold of the right pedal in what was known as the ‘Katri’ (scissors) maneuver. Very aptly named. This was because most of the bicycles then were of standard size, much bigger than the young learner and the learner had to use the shortest way to reach both the pedals.
From there one promoted oneself to what was known as the ‘Bar’ – Riding the bicycle straddling the bar connecting the seat and the handle. For this, one had to grow enough and gain enough balance to swing the right leg over the bar and get hold of the right pedal. In this position, with every effort of pushing the pedals down, the body and the bike alternately swung to the left and right dangerously and the bike moved in a zig zag way till the art was mastered.
The final position was the ‘Seat’ where you rode the bicycle properly sitting on the seat. One had to grow a lot before that could be achieved and it took years to be able to ride ‘Seat’ if one learnt cycling at a very young age.
My memory is wandering into the bylanes of cycling techniques. Please endure.
I had reached ‘Katri’ with ease but was fed up of pushing the cycle up the slope every time. Now was the time to maneuver the bike around the circle without stopping and ride to the top of the slope again. While attempting to successfully turn around the circle I fell dozens of times damaging my right knee, right elbow and the entire right side of the bicycle but by the end of the day I was proudly riding nonstop up and down the slope.
Before I left Mysore, I had mastered the art and had even ridden the bicycle all over Saraswatipuram with my hands off the handle! I have never felt so elated and felt that sense of achievement in my life again.
Immersed in my memories I had forgotten the Kukkarahalli lake and had reached the other end of the Mahabodhi road and by then the orange - red sun was coming up between the coconut palms. The tree tops which were a uniform black in the dark had turned into beautiful shades of yellow (copperpods), soft pink (rain trees), white (three different trees the names of which I could not get. One of them is called ‘Honge’ in kannada) and blue (Jacaranda) with the sun rays playing on them.
As I turned towards Kuvempunagar, where I was staying, more doors were open and in front of the houses ladies were out sweeping their yards. The more enthusiastic ones were also sweeping the street in front of their houses removing the carpet of fallen flowers but making it look very neat and tidy. I crossed two more roads and found myself in front of the Javaregowda park in which the regulars had started their morning constitutional. Sitting comfortably in the shady, cool porticos of the beautiful houses next to the park with cups of morning coffee steaming beside them, few lucky people were opening their morning paper.
I am quite happy where I am, but at that moment I just could not help myself wishing that I was living there.
I could very well appreciate the sentiments of the great Kannada poet Pampa when he said “antavaraagi puTTaladEnaagiyumEnO teerdapude? teeradoDam maridumbiyaagi meN kOgileyaagi puTTuvudu nandanadoL Banavaasi deshadoL”. (While describing the land ‘Banavaasi’ and its people, Pampa says “I do not know how I can get to be born as one of them. At least as a bird or a bee, in that paradise called Banavaasi.”)
Well, Mysore may not exactly be the ‘Nandana’ (Paradise) that ‘Banavaasi’ was and I may not go to the extent of wishing ‘Maridumbiyaagi meN kOgileyaagi’ (at least as a bee or a bird) - but my feelings came very close to that.
Camera courtesy : Vidya Shankar. I always like articles with pictures. If the writing is bad one can at least look at the pictures. Having seen Vidya’s photographs in Face book I was sure she has a good and working camera. Since she has posted a lot of bird pictures I knew that her camera is always charged and ready. (How is that for the Sherlock homes in me!) The camera was good. Blurred image indicates my incompetence.
Identification of trees : Vidya Shankar
Computer courtesy : Anuradha and Nandakumar. The number of my postings on this blog have crossed three hundred. I am now an experienced writer. My experience is that unless I put things down in words as soon as they form in the mind, they evaporate. Anuradha handed over the keys to her house and access to the computer so that I could go over there and type whenever I wished. Writing this has given me considerable satisfaction and it would not have been possible without free access to Anu - Nanda’s house and computer.