ON MYSORE CITY
(Excerpted from R.K. Narayan’s “Mysore”, a travelogue, 1939)
Mysore was once the royal capital; when it ceased to be that, it became the Governor’s residence, but later it ceased to be even that when the Governor’s office was moved to Bangalore.
Long before the All India Radio was thought of, Akshavani had its birth in the Vontikoppal extension of Mysore, and then the All India Radio came along, absorbed it, and moved off to Bangalore, abandoning a perfectly designed studio.
Mysore was the seat of the University, but after the creation of a Bangalore University its jurisdiction has shrunk.
All that could be dislodged and shifted have been moved from Mysore. What has been left behind is the Chamundi Hill with its temple, also the rivers Kaveri and Kabini on the outskirts, and the forests on the farther perimeter with their tigers, bisons, elephants and a hundred other creatures.
To me at any rate, the really worthwhile things are here, and form an immutable background to life in Mysore, which goes on unruffled, free from the fret and fury of modern city life.
The railway offices and workshop, the silk, sandal oil and scooter factories, and the Krishnarajendra Mills, where the maximum number of persons are employed, receive their workers and release them at the end of the day without creating any obvious rush or peak-hour scenes.
The pedestrian still commands mastery of the roads; the next, in order of priority, are cycles in a kind of mobile barricade, while the riders of bullock carts with fuel from the jungles always appear deeply absorbed in sorting out their problems; then tongas, which in consideration of the state of their horses, are permitted at will as long as they hurt no one.
I am saying nothing about autorickshaws because Mysore has the unique distinction of having only one of its kind.
Cattle, singly or in herd, moving, recumbent or stationary hold top priority in all the public thoroughfares; especially buffaloes which enjoy a privileged existence (in spite of the fact that the Goddess on the hills incarnated herself especially to destroy the buffalo demon Mahisha).
When all these items of traffic have passed, automobiles, trucks and lorries, get their clearance. It’s challenging: if one can drive in Mysore, one can drive anywhere in the world.
A visitor to the city once asked why the bulk of the population of Mysore city, mostly in groups of four and six, seemed to be concentrated in its streets. The answer is simple. Mysoreans have not yet lost the use of their limbs; the distances are not insuperable, and the weather and the general surroundings are always conducive to a walking philosophy, tempting one to go out.
A day’s visit to the “market side” is indispensable, if not for shopping at least to meet people. As in ancient Athens, people settle many matters of philosophy, politics and personal affairs, while promenading around the statue or strolling down Sayaji Rao Road. But this creates certain traffic problems as such discussions, by preference, are held on road junctions, rather than on the very broad footpaths (which, for mysterious reasons, are detested and avoided by one and all).
Driving in Mysore is peculiarly complicated as one must be able to weave one’s way without losing one’s serenity of mind. If the accident statistics of Mysore are negligible it is not for want of opportunities, but it is due to the general all-round good humour, and a certain imperviousness in the Mysore temperament; no driver ever would dream of demanding the right of way and the pedestrian has confidence and knows that it will not be necessary for him to interrupt his conversation and move, as the vehicle, if the needs arise, could always move on to the footpath which is just there just waiting to be used.
Mysore has not much excitement to offer: a couple of clubs, an annual music season lasting for a fortnight, the Dasara festivities, a few University functions or lectures, are all the events that a citizen can look forward to, but life in general possesses a quiet beneath the surface intensity, imparted to it by the natural surroundings.
However, the noteworthy seasonal transformations, the grand pyrotechnical lighting that rends the pitch black skies of summer storms, falls of hail, the fleecy clouds floating across the lit-up tower of the Chamundi Hill temple, and the absolutely unmatched sunsets over Kukkarahalli tank touching up the hill with iridescence, are matters of moment for us; one notices, enjoys, and talks about them.
I have said nothing about the trees of Mysore yet. Mysore has probably the most versatile collection of trees (estimated to be about ten thousand) of any city in the world.
I have heard persons in far off countries refer to the “Gold Mohur” season of Mysore, when a whole road is canopied with orange and red blooms, to be followed by the purple Jacaranda here and there, or absolutely flaming-red Spathodia; in Mysore one finds the Padri flower, that extraordinary, delicate-scented flower which blooms for only a week in a year in March.
Mysore has flowers or foliage to offer all round the year, but unfortunately one gets so used to one’s gifts that one takes them for granted; in other countries or even other Indian cities one would have guarded and trained them with all the might of the local authority; but here foliage and flowers are broken off by the lorryload in the event of marriages or even in connection with a ministerial visit (as I found out once).
Occasionally the elephant from the stables just breaks off a tree for its breakfast: I once remember an irate officer marching off an elephant with the mahout to the Laxmipuram police station; but that was years ago, nowadays no one minds it; the authorities are totally indifferent or plead helplessness, and the average citizen does not interfere.
I worry over this problem as much as one worries about possible nuclear disasters. I spoke to a municipal authority on this subject once: he thanked me for drawing his attention to the subject, rang up his assistant and asked him to immediately look up the by-laws and immediately tell him how it could be prevented; the assistant said `Yes sir’, and there the matters rests; that was over a year ago.
This is the sad part of it today—a feeling one gets that Mysore has been abandoned by its guardians.
Garbage heaps keep growing by the roadside; tenemental constructions proliferate over carefully planned old extensions; the streets look sinister at nightfall, are ill-lit or not lit at all in most places (Mysore was called the city of lights once); roads are pitted in most areas, with potholes camouflaged with pebbles and a smearing of tar (a highly individual technique evolved by our road-makers on the basis of `out of sight, out of mind’); and above all we had the finest filtered water supply once upon a time. Now one hears with shock that it’s only half-filtered. The man who mentioned it asked, “Isn’t it better than nothing?” How can it be? It is in the same category as poison or sin for there can be no such a thing as semi-sinfulness or semi-poison; I hear rumours that finances are being found a hundred percent filtering of water. I hope it will be done before there is one more attack of cholera.