hints, allegations and things left unsaid...
flickr | feed | latest | last 10 

Trip to Mysore...
My only connection with the subject of “History” is the fact that it rhymes with “Chemistry” (I am a Chemist by education). Had someone told me a few days back that I would be attending a congregation of Historians from across the various parts of the country in Mysore, I would have dismissed it as a mere flight of fancy, though if I put to use the advantage of hindsight I have now, that dismissal would have been utterly misplaced. My sister is studying to be a historian and as part of her pre-doctorate studies she had to present a paper at the Indian History Congress, which this year was being organized at Mysore University. Since she was to leave from Bangalore, I joined her for the trip. (Sometimes just being with people who are not even remotely connected to what you studied or do professionally, can give you surprising perspectives to things you thought you knew well). Mysore is well connected to Bangalore via both trains and road. It is about 150 KM away and makes for a pleasant drive that lasts a little over 3 hours.

The preparations for our journey started with selection of the car we wanted to hire. We were on a shoestring budget and wanted to keep the travel costs low, so a big car like Esteem was ruled out from the word go. It boiled down to choice between the good old Ambassador (fondly called “Ambi”) and Tata Indica. I’ve traveled to Chandigarh from Delhi once in Indica and it makes for a good ride on the highways and so we opted for the latter.

Our journey started sharp at 5:00 AM in the morning from my flat. It was still dark outside and a tad chilly too. Moments into the drive, my sis dozed off, while I listened to Mozart’s Piano Concerto 20 – its one of the two piano concertos of Mozart’s that he wrote in a minor scale (D minor). The recording I have is digital avatar of an old Clara Haskil recording and makes for a somber, sublime listening (especially the second movement). Given the lack of traffic early in the morning, we soon found ourselves cruising on the Bangalore – Mysore road. Sis was still blissfully asleep, while I continued my observations on Mozart and the world scurrying past outside.

The Bangalore-Mysore highway is not a “flat” one. There are gentle slopes that you continuously negotiate. The road although somewhat narrow for a highway, has traffic flowing in both directions. There is a demarcation into lanes, but that is hardly ever adhered to. The bigger your vehicle, the more is your audacity to shun lane discipline. This combined with the sloping nature of the road makes the entire journey a little scary- even more so when it is dark. As you are approaching up a gentle slope, you would see a halo of light hanging about far away. The halo would gradually approach you and in no time it would turn into clearly demarcated beams of light. Within moments you would be confronted by harsh headlights of a vehicle, coming at you at a ludicrous speed. This blinds you for an instant and makes it impossible for you to tell the exact nature of the vehicle – all you see is a glaring pair of headlights which could be of a car or of a truck or (as is case the on this route), a tourist bus. Fortunately our driver was an old hand and negotiated all these challenges deftly.

It was 5:45 now, the dawn would crack in another 15-20 minutes but for now the stars still twinkled clearly in the firmament. The illuminated dashboard of the car reflected in the glass pane opposite the driver’s seat and merged with my view of the numerous stars. Dawn descended gradually. A gentle orange gleam hung at the horizon which very subtly manifested itself into a golden pall that covered the entire land. With the sunrise, the seemingly featureless dark spaces on our either sides morphed themselves into green fields, coconut trees and distant huts. Our car gradually came to a halt at a petrol pump. We had reached our first stopover – Maddur.

Maddur is half-way between Bangalore and Mysore. Across the road was a small restaurant called “Maddur Tiffany’s” that serves an array of snacks including ubiquitous idlies and dosas, but what takes the cake is a delicacy called (quite imaginatively) “Maddur Vada”. I had eaten it before in Bangalore but did not know that its name is attributed to the place of its origin. Unlike the conventional vada which is doughnut shaped, this vada is disk shaped and is very “stiff”. The dough used in its preparation is probably similar to vada and is deep fried with shredded onions. It tastes more like the “mathri” that we get up north and is served with a thick paste-like coconut chutney which has a hint of sourness probably due to a dash of tamarind that is added to it. We liked them so much that we got six of them packed for folks back home. Of course the breakfast would be incomplete without idlies, vada and a strong, sweet filter coffee!

After this refreshing twenty minute stop over, we proceeded to the second half of our journey. The scenery remained more or less consistent throughout. Occasionally we would hit a small town and would see walls plastered with scores of posters of latest Kannada movies. Its funny how traces of English or Hindi vanish - even from the graffiti - as you make inroads into deeper parts of the state, giving me ample opportunity to brush up my Kannada reading skills. Within 45 minutes we found ourselves in Srirangapatnam which was the capital of Tipu Sultan a very small town which we could drive across in less than 10 minutes.

At last we found ourselves at our final destination – Mysore. My first impressions were that of a stereotypical, small, dusty, sleepy Indian town. It was 8 AM on a Sunday and so the town was still coming to life when we entered. The clock tower was the hub of activity but most shops were still closed. Being in the middle of the town had considerably slowed us down. Although we knew that we had to reach Mysore University, we weren’t quite sure where it was. Unlike the famous palace there, it is certainly not a tourist attraction which meant that our driver was as clueless as we were. A little bit of asking around the auto-wallahs thrust us in the right direction and got us to the main university campus.

The campus is somewhat secluded from the main city. Very quiet and quite lush. There is even a small lake near-by. Two banners with their big English lettering beckoned to us our arrival at the “Senate Hall” which was the hub for this year’s Indian History Congress. The atmosphere did not have a hint of formalness and could be easily mistaken for a grand picnic. We entered the main hall, and began our search for the registration counter where my sis could submit her paper. I was a little taken aback by the lack of organization and chaos. There was an air of uncouthness with which the business was being conducted. Not a single computer in sight – everything was being done manually with heaps of dog-eared papers, commotion and queues all around. But then this was historians we were dealing with. After standing in two queues, witnessing few unruly scenes and a resilient effort later my sister could register herself. The main inaugural function was at Crawford Hall, about 1 KM away from the main Senate Hall. We followed the official shuttle and reached there at 10:45. The entry to the hall was restricted only to the attendees of the conference which meant that only my sis could get in. I was more than happy to excuse myself from the proceedings and set out to explore…

I first told the driver to take me to an eating place where they served local food – preferably where the hoi-polloi ate. Not sure if I quite got my point across as I was soon taken to a rather posh looking Hotel Siddhartha. Outside a giant Santa cutout, with a trumpet in one hand, wished me a merry Christmas and a happy new year. The interiors were plush but the place did server authentic Mysore food. I devoured a handsome Mysore Butter Masala dosa with a strong coffee. Food, glorious food!

Mysore is probably the only city I know of which has been named after a demon from Indian mythology – “Maheshasura”. The demon was slain by goddess Chamundi whose temple is located atop a hill named after her. The hill is barely 7 KM away from the center of the town. On my way, I saw a set of govt. flats in the foothills. They looked very toy-like with the massive Chamundi hills in the backdrop. The hills are covered in vegetation and there is well constructed road that takes you to the summit where the temple is. The drive to the top is like any other drive uphill – a measured, careful drive up the curling, serpentine road that spirals around the hill all the way up. Within twenty minutes you find yourself facing a giant statue of Maheshasura with a primordial sword in one hand and a big leopard-spotted snake in another – a very popular milieu, especially amongst kids for getting their pictures snapped. Right behind the statue there is an open area encircled by small shops where you park your vehicle. To your left is a narrow lane; with hundreds small shops on either sides, that you walk through, for reaching the temple. The place, this being Sunday, was very crowded. During my passage through the lane, I came across shops selling eatables and cold drinks, religious offerings for devout worshippers, cassettes, toys, bracelets, bangles, incense sticks, handicrafts, charms, stuffed teddy bears – you name it! The 500 meter lane opened into another wide open space where enormous, adorned temple stood tall. While driving up the hill, the way the noise from the city traffic faded, I was lead into anticipating an august calm at the temple – the reality was far from it. Thousands of restless, chattering devotees standing in a huge queue for getting inside the temple made a collective din that ruined the peace of the serine hilltop. The summit is also not a great place for taking snaps of the city below. The vegetation obscures the view and all I managed when I looked down the bushy thicket was two buffalos leisurely swimming in a muddy puddle below.

I grew uneasy and decided to head back without a visit inside the temple. This time I paid some more attention to the shops surrounding the narrow lane and found a few interesting things - mostly musical - worth mentioning. A lot of the shops sell toys – one of them had a rather cheesy looking toy piano with an incomplete octet – just the C, D, E notes then a complete octet followed by another triplet of C, D, E keys and a lone key in the end – a full white key without a “sharp” black key. Above it was a toy gun. The piano had been murdered and the weapon was left on the site. Few steps down the alley, was another shop selling cassettes. I was dumbfounded by the sheer assortment of cassettes – from latest Tamil, Hindi, Kannada flicks to compilation of A R. Rahman numbers to Alisha Chenoy and Adnan Sami’s albums to cassettes with devotional songs all sharing the same shelf-space. As if the owner of the shop had taken upon himself to showcase the vibrant diversity of our country! What blared from speakers in these shops was distinctly religious – from chants of gayatri mantra to hymns and prayers in one of the Indian dialects that I don’t understand.

Since was atop a rather tall hill, I definitely wanted to click a few snaps of the view below. Once I was out in the open parking lot, I looked around for a good vantage point for my shot. There was a narrow corner where a small road went downhill. I walked down and finally came to a spot from where I could see a great part of the city clearly. I composed my shot with intense concentration which was very shortly disturbed by the sound of trickling water. It didn’t take me long to realize that what I considered a vantage point was also a popular spot for men to face the valley and take a leak. A disgusting, disturbing public toilet habit in India which I’ve found everywhere with striking consistency. . I brusquely rushed to the car, upset and appalled.

We began our slow descent downhill and finally came to a spot where a huge billboard informed us of it being an ideal location for photography. I told my driver to stop and went on to take a few snaps in peace of what was labeled “Aerial view of Mysore”. On my left was a small diversion – a narrow road that took us to the statue of Nandi bull. A magnificent idol carved out of a black stone. Very close to the statue was a small decrepit “cave” temple of lord Shiva. A few monkeys played about near the cave, some of them perched atop the trees surrounding the cave. One of them marched around on all fours near the temple gate and though it looked timid and frail, it made me keep my distance. Close to me was another monkey who looked as if one of its limb (arm) had been amputated. My expertise in zoology wouldn’t let me comment if it was a congenital defect or result of some ghastly accident, but it sure looked very weird (and sad) to see a monkey on just three appendages. Within minutes I was back in the car again and we continued our descent down.

A SMS from my sister informed me of the delay she was facing at the inaugural ceremony which gave me another hour to go around the town.

My next stop was the Cathedral of St. Philomena. The cathedral is modeled on the cathedral in Cologne. The cathedral’s two tall towers are what capture your attention at first. Both of them are 165 feet high with a cross another 12 feet in height on top. Inside there are long wooden benches arranged in queues and the walls are adorned with paintings depicting events from the time when Christ was crucified. Colored light filters in from the stained glasses above. And though photography inside the cathedral is strictly prohibited, it did not stop people from using cameras built into their mobile phones from snapping. Overall the grand gothic exteriors of church leave on you a deeper impression than the poorly kempt interiors.

It was now time to head back to the university and run a quick check on what my sister was up to. Outside Crawford Hall a stream of policemen and white ambassadors indicated that someone of significance, a head of Government, was inside. We were grudgingly allowed to park inside the hall compound and I started exchanging SMSs with my sis to trace her whereabouts. She stood outside the main hall and sure looked flustered at the delays that the inauguration was marred with. The guest of honor at this particular event was chief minister of Karnataka Mr. S. M. Krishna and he had failed miserably to leave any mark on the audience by means of his tired oration. Though he had begun by apologizing profusely for his delayed arrival, my sister didn’t think that it (apology) had any roots in sincerity. Ah the little girl is getting cynical already!

Since our early morning breakfast at Maddur, she hadn’t had anything to eat. So the first rare consensus we arrived at, dealt with the subject of lunch. The driver was again instructed to take us to hotel Siddartha. When we reached there we found that another two buses packed with tourists had descended at the same restaurant and it would be impossible to grab lunch in time for her paper. And so we headed off to another place, called The President. The menu here was very disappointing – not a single dish that would make us relate to Mysore. We reluctantly agreed on Hyderabadi vegetables with chapattis. Once we were out of the wretched place I started frantically looking for our driver, who fortunately spotted me and gesticulated to inform us that he had to park at the hotel’s underground parking. Across the road stood an imposing two storey high cutout of a famous Kannada star Upendra outside a theatre showing his latest movie - “Goukarna”. I’ve seen a few liquor ads featuring him in Bangalore. On our way back I saw a poster advertising Nandini milk where he stood with a poly-pack of milk in either hand and sported a broad grin. It all looked so comical that I couldn’t help a hearty laugh (reminded me of the famous “Got Milk” campaign they ran in US a few years ago).

Once back at the university, my sister started her frantic search for the hall where she was to deliver her paper. It was a last moment entry in the medieval Indian history section and that caused her jitters about the shroud of uncertainty that loomed large over inclusion of her paper in today’s proceedings. I joined her at the basement of “Senate” hall where historians dealing with medieval Indian history had assembled. The business here was being conducted with thorough seriousness that you would expect from researchers involved in their subject for long periods. The group of historians present in that room painted a true picture of geographic and cultural diversity of India – both in terms of the parts of the country they represented as well as in terms of the subjects they had chosen to handle. We had papers that dealt with peasants in Deccan India in medieval times to rulers of Jammu around Mughal era. My sister had done a study on one of the authoritative sources on Sufism and spoke on how that source imbibed influences from other sources of its time. While I did not register much of the technical nitty-gritty, what she said did make sense – fortunately also to other members of the audience. There was another paper after hers and the meeting was dismissed for first day.

It was 5:30 already and all tourist spots – including the Mysore Palace – close for public around that time, which meant the only option we had was to head straight back to Bangalore. We resumed our drive, exhausted after the day’s travails. The Sun set to my left and painted the skies orange once again as our car sped along on the Mysore Bangalore road.
posted: 6.1.04

Post a Comment

Archives Blogroll

All material posted on this blog is copyrighted and may not be used in any form without the explicit permission of the author.