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Snapshots from memory lane

(Anecdotes contributed by Pranesh)

 

 

 

1956: Chicka Magalur

1958: Basavapatna

1960: Papanasam

1964: Singara

1965: Jalgaon

1976: Kashi and Kota

1968: Mussoorie

1969: Shimoga

1970: Sedam

1970-71:Gulbarga

1971: Tarikere

1972: Pudukkottai

 

 

 

Chicka Magalur 1956:

 

The house was large. There was plenty of space in the compound to run and play.

The old jamun tree was a favourite among all kids. For most part of the year you could throw a stone a few times and land a fruit. Kids would always be playing around the tree. The cricket pitch was not far away. The tree served as the pavilion for the players awaiting their turn to bat.

 

The Civil Judge and District Magistrate was a big shot, even though Father was personally very pious and humble. When we had to go out of town, there was no need to go to the bus stand. Buses would stop in front of the house to pick or drop us. There was an old constable at home, who would teach us Urdu among his other duties including guarding the house. The cook Rajendra Adiga was a crossword fan, always trying unsuccessfully to win a fortune in the RMDC crossword contest. We all got our turns guessing whether 122111 or 212121 would be the lucky combination.

 

 There would be occasional trips to the hills nearby- Kemmannu Gundi, Dattatreya Peetha, Dharmasthala, Udipi, Sringeri etc. The van would be more than full with eager children and happy adults. Driving through the Ghat roads was exciting. The sight of coffee bushes in different seasons was always interesting. Though a wild animal was never encountered, the possibility was always there to keep the boys alert. When the van got caught in slush on a bad stretch, it only added to the excitement. The driver would extricate it and take us to our destination with many tales of accidents and wild animal sightings. There used to be a border check during earlier trips. On the last trip, there was none. South Kanara district had been attached to the reorganized State of Mysore !

 

St Joseph’s convent had a nice flower garden. The Sister Superior could generally be seen trimming off old flowers. She could wield a cane too, when an impertinent boy asked one question too many! That was rare. What one got more often was love, encouragement and appreciation. One could win prizes in many literary competitions, speak in elocution contests, act in plays, turn out smartly in Scout uniform and lead the parade in Independence Day! Come Children’s Day and you are asked to preside over the celebrations and make a speech at age 10! Elder brothers at home dressed you up in coat and neck tie to make you look like a President and then the whole family joined the crowd in applause.

 

While we took liberties with Father, we the youngsters held brother Krishnaswamy in great awe. Once I lost a cricket ball and vowed that I would not enter the house before finding it. Search all afternoon and evening was futile. Came evening and it was time to test my resolve. I sat in the outhouse to wait out the night. Soon, news went in about the boy who had not come in after dark. When I saw big brother enter the outhouse with a small stick in hand, I did not even state my intention before bolting into the house.

 

Chicka Magalur was a small district town. Little did we realize at that time, that Indira Gandhi would choose Chicka Magalur one day, as her parliamentary constituency and make the town famous!

Basavapatna 1958:

 

The Kaveri river courses through Kodagu, Hassan, Mysore, Mandya and Bangalore districts of Karnataka before flowing on to Tamil Nadu. Wherever it flows, it supports not merely agriculture . Its waters have tended the culture of the two states- chiefly, their music. It has become proverbial that good carnatic musicians should have been brought up on Kaveri water. Bhava, Dr Narayana Rao, was posted in Basavapatna, on the banks of The Kaveri in Hassan district. We got to spend a month there one summer.

 

It was good exposure to rural life for us- Bangalore boys. We would see families come to the PHC in bullock carts with patients. We got to hear the rural dialect of Kannada. Big Jack fruits, banana bunches and vegetables would come as presents from grateful families to the doctor. Rural development under new Five Year Plans had just started. We saw posters about planned development with a picture of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister. There were also derisive comments about the NES being only a’ Notes Eating Scheme’

 

We crossed the Kaveri to visit Rudrapatna. The Kaveri was not very broad or deep at that time of the year. We walked on a causeway feeling very thrilled to be able to cross a river in that fashion. Paddy fields and coconut trees on both banks of the river made for exquisite scenery. In Rudrapatna, we visited a family made famous by its Carnatic musicians. We heard Sanketi language for the first time. It was a strange sounding mixture of Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. Amidst lots of talk about music, we had a sumptuous lunch. It was made memorable by a large jar of special mango pickle presented by the family. Rudrapatna mango ‘midi’ was remembered for long.

 

Hemagiri hill was in walking distance of Basavapatna. There we went one Sunday. The walk was not as short as we were told earlier. However, we made it to the foot of the hills in about two hours. Our exhaustion vanished when we saw the old priest climb the hill without complaining. It was quite hot when we reached the Ranganatha temple at the top. The priest’s recounting of the mythology of the place followed by appetizing Prasadam of Puliyogarai and Curd rice refreshed us. The hill top provided a good view of the country. Kaveri could be seen coursing through the fields and nourishing them.

 

Ramanathapura was the nearest town. There we went to see a movie. Kannada films were not yet numerous. Tamil and Hindi films were more common. After visiting the temple of Ramanatha Swamy, we went to the movie hall. We enjoyed seeing MG Ramachandran defeat bad people and emerge triumphant as the ‘Nadodi Mannan’ (tramp prince). We learnt to copy the hero’s way of thumbing his nose!  Little did we expect at that time, that one day in the future, MGR would become a modern day king as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

 

Papanasam 1960:

 

As boys, most of our limited travel was within the State. It was rarely that we got a chance to go out of Karnataka (Mysore as it then was). Mr. Shama Rao was working in Tamil Nadu (Madras as it then was). Spending summers with him was a great attraction. One summer was spent in Periyar project, which was then under construction. Another was in Samayanallur, near Madurai. The third was in Papanasam near Tirunelveli.

 

The house in Papanasam was not far from the river. One could see hills and forests from the verandah of the house. Close to the house, was a hillock, on which, the Inspection Bungalow was located. This was an excellent point to view the Agasthya hills. With suggestions from the locals, one could see the supine form of Sage Agasthya in the low range of hills. His tuft and nose could be spotted too. After rains, the hills looked blue with whiffs of clouds. There were many water falls to be seen as white lines on the blue hills. The view was very exciting, particularly to an imaginative teenager.

 

Papanasam had interesting stories. When all beings assembled in Mt Kailasa to see the wedding of Shiva and Parvati, some one was needed to stay on this side of the Vindhyas to balance the weight. Agasthya was chosen to do this. After the wedding, Agasthya felt bad that he had missed seeing a great occasion on account of his duty. God compensated him by reenacting the wedding before Agastya, at Papanasam. Behind the IB, was the Papanasam water falls. At the base of the falls, we were shown three great pits said to have been used for performing Homam during the reenacted celestial wedding. Further down the river, was the Shiva temple of Papanasam. Agasthya is also venerated in Tamil Nadu as the first Tamilian, who taught the language to Shiva’s son, Murugan. All these stories told with enthusiasm by a loving elder sister, made the Papanasam summer, a great vacation. Leelakka was a great story teller. She would give us scene by scene accounts of movies she had seen. Her decriptions of famous temples were graphic. At the end, she would say that she had heard all this from Ajamma, our grand mother, who had a prodigious memory and a critical eye for detail!

 

Vacations with Bhava, included learning Yogasanas. He taught us Shirshasana, Sarvangasana, Padmasana and many others. But we were most comfortable with Shavasana, which required us only to lie still. We also practiced a bit of Tamil on the locals and tried to learn the alphabet. This came in handy many years later when I had to pass a Tamil exam!

 

The Upper dam across Papanasam River was about 15miles from the lower camp, where most of the engineers stayed. The road ran through jungle which was known to hold tigers among other animals. This area has since become the Mundanthurai tiger sanctuary.  Drives to Upper Dam, were always filled with expectations for youngsters, even though animals other than deer and peacock did not generally appear.

 

The dam with the hills and forests around, presented a beautiful view. But the most spectacular sight was seen when a special type of valve was opened. Water then gushed out as a great flower of water spraying vertically and forward. The sight and sound were spellbinding.

 

Boating behind the dam was a special attraction. We went by boat to Bana Thirtha water falls. This involved boating to a far shore of the lake. It took about an hour. There we got off and climbed on foot for half an hour to witness the spectacular falls amidst a pristine forest. The boating, the climbing and the sights together made it an exhilarating experience. On the way back, some one remarked that the dam had water to a depth of more than hundred feet. While that was scary, we were reassured by another comment, that ten feet depth was sufficient to drown and any depth beyond that did not matter!

 

The power house was located about a mile and a half from the house. One had to walk to the valve house, which was prominent because of the tall surge shafts. From there, you had to climb down a few hundred steps to the power house. Inside, you could hear the noise of the great turbines, spinning and generating electricity. Engineers shouted above the noise to tell you the finer technical details. But not all could be heard or understood. Stepping out, you could see the river in another form, as it rushed out from under the power house. Seeing its fury, one could not accept that its energy had already been absorbed by the big machines. After all the technical talk, there was some thing we could understand. There were lots of monkeys near the power house. We were shown the official monkey chaser, who had to keep them away from the switches! With one last attempt at craning the neck to see the top end of the pipe line from below, we reluctantly, started the climb back. One did not know that there would be a chance to revisit only after quarter of a century!

 

 

1964 Singara

 

Singara means beauty. It is an apposite name for the beautiful place, where the first hydroelectric station of Tamil Nadu is situated. From Bhava’s house, we could see the Power House. The house was on a hillside. We had to walk down about 50 steps to the road and walk on a short distance to reach the powerhouse. We could also see the big penstock pipes conveying water of Pykara River from Glen Morgan, nearly 4000 feet above Singara. There were four pipe lines built at different times, as the power house was expanded. We were told that the project was considered crazy when construction began in the late 1920’s and was derisively called ‘Pythyakkara’ (madman) scheme! No such hydroelectric system had been seen earlier. No wonder people were skeptical.

 

Going up along the pipe line was a great experience. We had to travel in a car pulled up by a winch. After we boarded the car, the attendant would connect two wires running along the rail track, with a pole. This would ring a bell in the motor room. As the motor turned, the cable would get pulled up along with its passengers including youngsters, who were seeing such things for the first time. As the inclination of the track increased, our sense of verticality would get challenged! Electric poles which ought to be vertical would look inclined. In a minute, we could understand relativity! Close to Singara was the ‘German Point’ where the inclination of the track was the steepest. It was not clear how the name originated. However, all were appreciative of the skills of German engineers. We also saw massive anchors holding the pipes firm as water gushed through them at great speed.

 

The winch car track was one of the longest in Asia. It was divided into four stages. We had to change cars at each stage to reach the head works at Glen Morgan. As we climbed, the climate would become cooler. Sweaters had to be worn to weather the chill winds. The view also opened up and we could see vistas of the hills and plains below, all covered by forests and scrub vegetation. We tried in vain, to see where Tamil Nadu ended and Karnataka began! We could see the power house buildings get smaller as we climbed and disappear as the track made a curve. We heard stories of elephant sightings near the pipe line. However, we could see only monkeys in the wild.

 

In Glen Morgan, we were greeted by the serene sight of a tea estate above a lake. Glen Morgan was so named for the adjoining tea estate (As indeed was Singara). The lake was formed by the fore bay dam built by the electricity board. From the lake, water was flowing into the penstocks through a tunnel. Two cylindrical, hollow and tall steel towers formed the surge shafts. These were visible from a long distance. From the house in Singara also, we could see them and locate Glen Morgan. They would normally be painted in shining aluminum paint. Because of the hostilities with China in 1962, they were painted black. The lake surrounded by tea estates, was positively lovely with a few cattle grazing in the adjoining meadow. From Glen Morgan, the hill station of Ooty was only 10 miles away. There we went, full of expectation. The Botanical garden was very crowded with summer visitors. However, there was still place for all to enjoy the beauty of the place. A shower brought a sudden chill in the air. Our party made a hurried return to the warm comfort of Singara.

 

The EB colony was on the edge of a game sanctuary. Any journey to Mysore or Gudalur could confront us with wild animals. Sighting of spotted deer was very common. Elephants were also seen frequently. Peacocks could be seen often though not frequently with their feathers open. Wild boars could also be seen sometimes. The big cats, Tiger and leopard were known to be there. But they were seen rarely. All these ingredients brought in a sense of expectancy to all rides out of the colony. From the home, we could hear a variety of bird calls.

 

The power house took pride in its garden. Bhava used to purchase flower seeds from Bangalore and Poona so that the garden could display new varieties and win a prize in the annual competition for Gardens in the district. The layout of the Garden was also very well done. A tall teak tree added to the beauty and dignity of the colourful garden. Our daily routine included a walk with baby Bharathi, to the garden and to the coffee estate outside the colony.

 

Singara was secluded from the cares of the busy world in the plains. We enjoyed our vacation blissfully unaware of the summer heat and water shortage in the plains. However, there was the ritual of listening to the Radio news before dinner. The elders would insist that we keep very quiet as they concentrated on the major news of the day read by Melville De Mellow. Mostly, there would be no news to worry about. One day, Bhava came from the power house and announced that Nehru had died. We switched on the radio, which was playing a shloka from Bhagavad-Gita, as the Government had declared State mourning. An era had ended for the country. The question, ‘After Nehru what?’ had to be faced. We did not know then, that a Gandhi dynasty would follow!

 

1965 Jalgaon


Brother Viji was working in the project to electrify the railway line from Bombay to Calcutta. His division was converting the signals on the line from Igatpuri to Bhusaval into colour light signals (from the old manual system) His home was at Jalgaon. He was not yet married. To his place, Mala and I went one summer.

Jalgaon itself had nothing to offer to the visitor. All the excitement in the place was provided by trains thundering through on their way to or from Bombay. However, our Jalgaon stay gave us a chance to visit Ajanta and Ellora caves. We had read about these places in Geography books and various journals. But what we experienced was much better. Ajanta caves are carved out of a horse shoe shaped hill. The location is very beautiful. There are over 33 caves. They have been decorated with frescoes. The frescoes have stood the test of time, because of the organic colours used to paint them and the protection from direct sunlight provided by the caves. A good number depict Buddhist themes while the others deal with Hindu stories. The paintings are exquisite. They have been reproduced and publicized worldwide. A good guide conducted us through them, pointing out in the dim light, the finer points for our appreciation. Some themes occurred often. By the end of the tour, we could recognize Bodhisattva Avalokiteswara and Bodhisattva Padmapani.



Ellora offered in carvings, what we saw as paintings in Ajanta. Here also there were Buddhist and Hindu rock cut temples exemplifying sculpture of a high order. The temples were not built by assembling rocks. Instead, they were cut by hewing out rock from the hill side. We were reminded of the sculptor who said that the goddess was already in the rock and he only uncovered her image! Unlike Ajanta, Ellora was hot.



We had read of Deogiri fort in history books. It was to this place that Mohammed Bin Tughlakh had shifted the capital from Delhi for a short time. We saw the place. The fort on a hill looks really impregnable and conveys the power of the emperor. It seems water was a problem then also and the idea of having the capital in the heart of India did not work for that reason. We were told that Emperor Aurangzeb also spent many years here. He has built here a memorial for his wife. But he was one who did not like to spend too much public funds on such things. While his father built the Taj mahal with the best marble, the frugal Aurangzeb built his wife's mausoleum in brick and lime. The building reminds one of the Taj, is also white, but is only a cheap replica.

The trip took us also to Shirdi. We had seen pictures of Sai Baba of Shirdi. Bhavaji was an ardent devotee. We used to get every month Prasad from Shirdi, in the form of a mixture of sugar and ginger. Viji is also a devotee and he continues to receive the Prasad.

 

1968   Kashi and Kota

 

It is said that a person who goes to Kashi should leave some thing there. In my case, I left my return ticket there!

A call for interview for a lecturer post from Banaras Hindu University gave me a chance to see Kashi. The sights of Kashi were, however, disappointing. The temple of Lord Vishwanath looked too small, crowded and ill maintained to Southern eyes which had seen famous temples in Tamil Nadu and Mysore.

 

The ghats along the river with their long flight of steps were impressive, in spite of the unclean maintenance. One was reminded of the scene from the Satyajit Ray movie where a little boy runs along these steps at dawn, seeing people engaged in various types of prayer or exercise. A fine temple built recently, was in the University campus. This modern temple for Vishwanath had been built by the Birlas. With an aesthetically designed tall structure, built in marble, the temple was very attractive. Cycle rickshaws dominated the roads of Kashi. All traffic moved constrained by these vehicles. Riding one such, I reached Saranath, where Buddha had given one of his early sermons. With a recently built Buddhist temple enclosed in a large and beautiful garden, Saranath was a serene place. One could sit down and try to visualize Buddha preaching.

 

After the interview, I went to the railway station to catch a train to Kota. Only after the TTE asked for my ticket, did I realize that I had left it behind in the hotel in Kashi. Though my name was on the chart, the TTE insisted that I should buy another ticket. The punishment has worked. I have not lost a ticket again in 45 years!

 

Rajasthan atomic power project was coming up, about 30 miles from Kota. Raghu was posted there. The housing colony was in the village of Rawatbhata. Vacationing with him, I got a chance to live in this interior part of Rajasthan. Coming from the salubrious climate of Bangalore, one found Rajasthan heat oppressive. Quickly, one learnt to stay indoors till evening, keep the blinds down with the fan running always. One had to keep drinking liquids often, to make up for water loss through sweating. This gave a good excuse for enjoying often beverages prepared with love by Suma vaini.

 

The stark scenery of the village was in sharp contrast with that of villages in Karnataka. There was not much to be seen in the village. Excitement was provided by occasional visits to the temporary theatre showing Hindi movies. The colourful attire of the locals was in contrast with the barren scenery. The women wore a lot of ornaments. The cut of their blouses matched those of current fashion designers. The men wore large and colourful turbans. The milkman in such fine attire would arrive on his cycle and announce it using a bulb horn. Used to milkmen in Bangalore, who dressed plainly and walked with their animals, we were duly impressed by their Rajasthani counterpart.

 

The construction site was about an hour’s drive from the colony. Those were the days when India was counted among Nations in the forefront of nuclear technology. Canada and India were sharing technology on equal footing. Dr Homi Bhabha, Chairman of the Atomic energy commission, was respected worldwide. The reactor buildings were taking shape. One got to climb a lot of steps with Raghu and hear a lot about nuclear technology as well as electrical and instrument engineering.

 

The power station was coming up close to the Ranapratap sagar dam on the Chambal River. These were romantic names. Ranapratap’s name evoked memories of heroic deeds of Rajput warriors. People remembered fondly, not only that King, but also his horse, Chetak. Chambal was made notorious by its tradition of dacoity. Those were days prior to that of the bandit queen, Phoolan Devi. People remembered the work of Vinoba Bhave, who had reformed some dacoits. This was popularized by the Raj Kapoor movie, ‘Jis Desh me Ganga Behti Hai’.

 

Chambal flowed down from Ranapratap Sagar towards Kota. There was another dam near Kota and a thermal power plant. However our attraction in Kota was just city civilization. We could go to pucca movie halls and eat at nice restaurants like Payal or Quality. It was our first time out in North India. We developed a liking for Aloo mutter (peas and potato) and other Punjabi dishes.

 

There was also a trip to Jaipur. Our first reaction was that Jaipur looked like Mysore! Later we learned the reason. Jaipur did treat Mysore as a good example to follow. The King invited a former Diwan of Mysore, Sir Mirza Ismail, to be his Diwan. All these have resulted in Mysore look alikes in Jaipur. Coming from Mysore, we felt proud about them. However Jaipur has many older monuments dating from Mughal times. The Hawa mahal is very good from outside. There are palaces in the city and on top of the hill nearby. Elephant rides exhilarate tourists at Amber fort. Visit to a museum was memorable for an unusual exhibit. Rajasthan consists of many tribes. Each tribe wears the turban, in its own style. The museum had a section showing the turbans of Rajasthan. It interested us very much.

 

Back in Rawatbhata, we heard much about peaceful uses of atomic energy. At that time, India was one of the champions of the slogan,’ atoms for peace’. Pokhran blast was still a decade away!

 

Mussoorie, 1968

 

The best thing that happened in Mussoorie is that I found Lakshmi. This I realized only after I left that place. While there, my thoughts were dominated by horses and mares!

 

Riding was compulsory, twice a week for all Probationers. As the riding day neared, tension would increase for almost all of us. As we neared the riding ground at the foot of the Happy valley, we would be all nerves. Riding Instructor, Naval Singh’s rough methods added to our misery. Some would go to his assistants earlier, requesting less frisky horses. They would even have sugar cubes for the horses as little bribes. But most would get horses or mares with minds of their own, which enjoyed tossing the new riders off their backs. While the Probationer hoped that Naval singh would take pity and excuse him, he would hear the tough man scream,’ If you cannot control a horse, how will you control a district? Get back on your horse’. Probationers made up various ways of entreating him. One said,’ Sir, take pity on me. Otherwise my bride- to- be will become a widow!’ But Naval singh would not budge! Riding incidents and the riding instructor provided the most frequent subjects for conversation in the academy.

 

The academy was set in delightful surroundings in a hill station built by the British. The lecture halls and hostels were dispersed among a number of buildings. Going to class or mess or riding involved a little walk and climbing. The tin roofed buildings used to house the Charleville Hotel in the old days. The location was called ‘Happy valley’ and the hostel was called ‘Valley view’. Sitting in the library, we could see Bandar Poonch and adjoining peaks covered by snow. Closer, we could see plenty of deodar trees and terraced fields in the Doon valley. Standing on the market road, we could see Dehra Doon lights below us. Local hill people had very friendly faces. There were also many Tibetan refugees. Our own company consisted of bright youngsters selected from all over the country on the basis of merit. All were full of hope and enthusiasm.

 

In addition to administration, the academy tried to teach English manners to the raw probationers. We had to be in coat and tie in all the lectures and in the mess. We also had formal dinners when we had to wear more formal trousers and a close collared coat. The formal dinners were long affairs, where you had to sit at assigned places and had to make conversation with the person next to you whether or not you liked him or her. Food for vegetarians would leave us hungry at the end of the dinner. There were also ‘dry lunch’ days which left us dry and hungry. A probationer’s handbook told us about table manners and the correct way to converse. ‘Cultured people talk about ideas. Others talk about people’

 

During Dasara break, some of us made a trip on our own, by bus, to Badrinath. From Rishikesh, the road went upstream, along the course of the Ganga, Bhagirathi and Alakananda. The narrow road allowed traffic in only one direction at a time. When we stopped we would await a convoy from the opposite side, led by a vehicle with red flag and ending with a vehicle carrying a green flag. The road curved its way along the rising hills with the river marking our route all along. Every fifty miles or so, there would be a Prayag where two rivers joined. The narrow strip of land at the confluence and a suspension bridge near the pilgrim town made the view picturesque. After each confluence, the river acquired a new name. Our route took us finally along the Alakananda. After spending a night on the way, we reached Badrinath. The temple was a simple structure. However, its location at 10000ft altitude at the foot of the majestic Neelakanth peak and the wonder of a hot water spring in such a cold place left lasting memories.

 

On the way back, we hiked to Hemkund Lake. We walked and climbed 10 miles to reach a Gurudwara at Ghagaria. We gratefully ate the food served from the Langar (common kitchen) and stayed the night. From here, there is a trail to the valley of flowers and another to Hemkund. We learnt that that the valley was not in season. So we climbed and marched another 6 miles to reach the pristine Hemkund Lake at an altitude of 14000 ft. It is sacred to the Sikhs. We walked with many of them shouting ‘Bole so nihal, Sat Sri Akal’ (Sikh equivalent of Govinda, Govinda). There we saw the pilgrims taking bath in the icy water. We also followed suit and were promptly frozen. The priest there gave us rugs and hot tea, which revived our spirits.

 

Badrinath beckoned me again when my group was sent to Joshimath for military attachment. We spent a fortnight with a battalion stationed at 9000ft altitude near Joshimath. This place, Auli has now been developed as a ski resort. When we were there, it was summer and there was no snow. We lived in a tent and experienced the rough life of officers in forward areas. After we had done most of our time, we were taken to Badrinath and then told to trek further towards the Tibetan border. We crossed a glacier on foot and climbed to 14500 by evening to reach the camp at Ghastoli. There was no village here, nor any greenery. We could see only rocks and snow. It was harsh on the eye and we had to keep snow goggles on. We were told how it causes depression sometimes. But for visitors like us, it was a great and adventurous trip. After spending the night in a Nissan hut, we trekked back to civilization.

 

After November, the weather in Mussoorie started getting chiller every week. By mid December, we were close to zero degree. There was suspense whether or not it would snow before we left the place for our two- month Bharat darshan to escape the winter. Just before Christmas, it did snow. All the young adults became children again. We built snowmen and threw snowballs on each other. Carols learnt in school were remembered again and we sang in praise of the White Christmas

 

The year in idyllic Mussoorie ended faster than we realized. Very soon we had taken our exams. We even jumped over hurdles (horse and rider attached) to clear the riding test. It was time to disperse. We left for different States spread all over the Country. Some of us would never meet again. Some would meet after a few decades and wonder how the other fellow had changed! Mussoorie also has changed, we hear. But we have not seen it again. Our Mussoorie is still in 1968-69. If we go there now, we may feel like Tagore’s Kabuliwallah!

 

 

 

 

1969 Shimoga

 

I used to remember Shimoga as the town in which, I had broken an arm. That was when I was in primary class. I remembered Raghu picking me up and taking me to the hospital. Now in 1969, I was a young man fresh after training in Mussoorie, reporting for district training in Shimoga.

 

After the college-hostel-like atmosphere in Mussoorie, I was out on my own for the first time. Akkamma had added a tiffin carrier and a plate to the things I carried from Bangalore. Only the first meal in the tiffin carrier tasted good.

 

The Deputy Commissioner, my boss for the year, had a very aggressive style of working. He was very harsh on his subordinates. Many of them would try unsuccessfully to avoid his meetings. While he chastised them, his eyes would flash fire and his ears would move up and down! I have not seen any other person who can actually move his ears to express an emotion!

 

Mr. Jayacharya would tell me about Hyderabadi culture. He had many stories from the Hyderabad administration, about officers who would live and work in Moghul style, not bother to read files and only ask whether a full signature or mere initials were required. One was known to sign anything put up to him including a letter of resignation. This Acharya was educated in the Urdu medium. He could speak the stylish Urdu of the Nizam’s court. When I was in awe about my future responsibilities, he told me of the saying, Khursi khud sikhati hai (the chair itself will teach you)

 

For a part of the training, I was posted at Honnali, on the banks of the river, Tunga. A tennis court was available near the guest house. For a month, I tried my hand at tennis, but never got to hit the ball hard enough to interest any partner. I had more success in learning to drive. The jeep was a convenient vehicle for learning as there was one gear less to use. One could also practise while going on tour. Sometimes this would cause anxiety to others riding with the young officer. When the vehicle swerved violently, some of them would remind me that they had families waiting for their return!

 

Sometime thereafter, Prakash became my boss! I had to work for a month as a Tahsildar in Sagar where the Assistant Commissioner was Prakash. Most people found it amusing except the mobile-eared boss. He was on a sharp look out to catch Prakash favouring his Tahsildar, because he happened to be his brother!

 

The best attraction in Sagar was the famous Jog Falls. It was only half an hour away. Quite a few weekends were spent playing cards and exchanging jokes in the Travelers Bungalow overlooking the falls. Sharavathi had already been dammed. Jog Falls no longer looked like its old pictures. The bungalow had an old visitors book with many interesting comments- the most famous being that of the Engineer Statesman Visweswaraya made before the river was harnessed, ‘What a waste of energy!’

 

1970 Sedam

 

We had heard of salem in Tamil nadu ; but where was Sedam in Karnataka ?  I had to find out because that was where I had to work. A friend who was trained in Gulbarga district, had once mentioned the name to impress us about the remote nature of the place. With a railway timetable, I found that Sedam was on the way to Hyderabad from Wadi and set off to my new station.

 

Sedam had a neat house for the Assistant Commissioner, even though it was not as spacious as the fine old bungalow that Prakash had in Sagar. The office had an IAS head for the first time. The staff was eager to make the young officer comfortable.

 

August evenings in Sedam attracted a variety of insects. If you were violent with them, they would leave their stink on you. You would also have to deal with itching and swelling. However, it was extremely difficult to bear them patiently. Luckily, their number reduced after the season changed.

 

 

 

Driving around villages in this area was quite an experience. It was one of the most backward areas in the State. In many places there was no road. We had to use the dried river bed as the jeep track. Of course during rainy season, the villagers would not be troubled by any unwelcome visits by Government officials.

 

Mr Veerendra Patil, who was the Chief Minister at that time, hailed from Chincholi in Sedam subdivision. There was no road bridge to reach that place. One had to take the train, get off at Tandur after crossing Kagina River and drive to Chincholi.

 

 Kannada the official language, was not the only common language in Sedam. Gulbarga distict was in Hyderabad state before 1956. So Urdu and Telugu were also very common. Many village records were still in these languages. Many officials were graduates of Osmania University, which was the first to use a language other than English, namely Urdu, as a medium of instruction. During a visit to a village near Chincholi, I heard a village elder bless the Chief Minister in chaste Urdu that he should live long and rule over them for a hundred years.

 

Once while waiting for the train at Tandur, I was accosted by a passenger who said he was stranded without money and had to proceed urgently. He had a very elaborate story which sounded plausible. Though I had some doubt, I remembered a line I had read somewhere, that ‘It is better to be cheated than to turn away one in real need’. So I parted with some money along with my address for returning the sum by money order. Many years have passed. The money order has not come. Perhaps he lost the address slip!

 

Unlike in the old Mysore area, the staple food of rural people in Hyderabad Karnataka was Jowar. The locals would sing the praise of Jowar Bhakri served with ‘ennegai’-(brinjal curry with lot of oil). My stay was not long enough to cultivate a taste for this delicacy.

 

 

Gulbarga, 1970-71

 

Gulbarga was the capital of  one of the Bahmani  Sultans. An old fort, mosque and similar historic stone structures exist there. But they are not as famous as those in Bijapur or Golconda (Hyderabad). Under the Nizam, it was the seat of a Viceroy. Now a Commissioner and a Deputy Commissioner are stationed there. After I had spent some months in Sedam, I was asked to work as Deputy Commissioner in Gulbarga, while the DC was away on long leave. Suddenly I was transported to the boss’s chair. The power of the office literally rang in my ears when Sec 144 was promulgated and I could hear a police van announcing that Deputy Commissioner so and so had prohibited assembly of persons!  Lakshmi wrote that I was striding like a colossus while I should still be learning to walk!

 

That was the year the Congress party split. Indira Gandhi called elections ahead of time. A census was also held in 1971. With these, the work of the DC became quite hectic. My recollection is of signing a large number of appointment orders of Election officials and the sight in the Collectorate when they all assembled and boarded vehicles to reach their polling stations.

 

The DC’s bungalow was very spacious and well furnished. There was a large sit out in front, surrounded by old tall trees. Old driver Kasim used to drive us around in the Willys wagon. There was also an Impala meant for VIP visitors. It was difficult to resist using it when no VIP was in the district.

 

Akkamma and Ramanna were among visitors to Gulbarga during this short period. We had enjoyable visits to Malkheda and other places of interest. All were amused to hear the Gulbarga dialect of Kannada. There was a cook who was quite talkative and told us many local stories. He used to distinguish locals as Mughalai people as distinct from people from areas under  former British rule.

 

Governor Dharma Vira visited Gulbarga. He was a retired officer of the ICS. He had a reputation as a strict person who had no patience for fools. He was speaking often against what he called the tyranny of the minor officials. He gave me advice not to take more than I could chew. It so happened that the CM was also visiting at that time. Hospitality resources were stretched. The Governor said I should have declined to receive both at the same time. Luckily nothing untoward happened and both VIP’s left peacefully. So did I shortly thereafter when the DC came back ending my 100 days as Sultan.

 

1971, Tarikere

 

Tarikere is famous for the tongue twister in Kannada ‘Tarikere kere eri mele Kari kuri Mari meyuththiththanthe’. I had visited it as a small boy when uncle, Dr Narahari Rao was posted there. My memory of the visit was a story about the time uncle had seen a tiger while driving his motorbike at night from a village in the forest. Now Tarikere had become my station, but the wild animal sightings were no longer frequent.

 

While at Tarikere, I got my first car. It was selected for me carefully by uncle, Dr Narahari rao. He went through the history of the car carefully and had it checked thoroughly by his mechanic. He also made me take the car to the temple of the Car God - a particular Vinayaka temple in Bangalore . The car was a Standard Herald. Painted white, with a horizontal stripe in red, it presented a sleek appearance. It was named the White Lady. Its companion was Prakash’s Standard 20 black car with a red stripe running on its roof and bonnet. That was the Patte car. Akkamma used to feel very happy and proud when Ayudha Pooja was done together to both the cars at 98 BT Road .

 

Tarikere offered many interesting places for touring. The AC had to camp in Chickamagalur, Koppa, Narasimharajapura and Sringeri. He could also visit Bababudan Hills, Kemmannugundi, Balehonnur, Kalasa and other scenic places in the hills. Driving along the ghat roads, one could see majestic hills and green valleys covered by forest, orchards or coffee plantations. In some places the road would be at 5000 ft altitude. On misty days, the hills would play hide and seek. The view would be completely covered by mist, only to reappear after some time. Given such an area to oversee and a car to do it with, the AC had a jolly good time practising driving.

 

The charge included some area in the plains also in the taluks of Tarikere and Kadur. A famous place here was Ajjampura, known for the brain of its Sanketis and brawn of its wrestlers.

 

Tarikere is in Chikkamagalur district. Meetings in the DC’s office gave me a chance to revisit the places I had frequented as a school boy, when Bhavaji had worked there 15 years earlier. The places had not changed; but the people had.

 

1972 Pudukkottai

 

There is no fort, old or new in Pudukkottai. However, it has a number of fine public buildings put up by the Tondaman rajahs before independence. As the Sub Collector, I got to live in one such. It was a red colonial building with wide verandahs all round and vast space in the compound. The office was in the adjoining Public Offices building. That was also a red building with turrets, spiral staircases and a fine elevation. A statue of a former Rajah stood in front. The office and bungalow were built for the Dewan, who conducted the administration under the Rajah. The palace was in a 99 acre campus outside the town. It was a massive building with grounds large enough to hold a private forest. The Rajah had moved away to Tiruchi. His brothers and their families lived in the palace. People had high regard for the Rajahs and often mentioned palace functions and gifts of the old Rajahs.

 

For some time, the Dewan was Alexander Tottenham. He is remembered in Madras as the originator of the Tottenham system of office procedure. Each paper and its disposal are still recorded under this procedure. Old timers referred to Tottenham in terms similar to those used in Mysore for Sir Mirza Ismail- full of regard for his administrative ability. The Sub Collector’s bungalow was also called the Tottenham bungalow. His favourite dog was said to be buried in the compound. It seems the bungalow used to have a well filled wine cellar in the good old days. Now the empty cellar is not opened at all.

 

This was the year in which the DMK party split. MGR who had won the votes for DMK was dissatisfied with Karunanidhi’s leadership. He started a new party, the ADMK. There was trouble all over the state. We had to face law and order problems in Pudukkottai also.

 

As a new comer to Tamil Nadu, I took some time to get used to the mode of address by the staff. They used to say,’The Sub Collector had instructed…’ I thought they were referring to my predecessor. After some time, I realized that they were referring to me! They would not use the word,’ you’, while referring to an officer.

 

In May 1973, Madhu was born in Madras . Lakshmi brought him to Pudukkottai after he was fit to travel. Their arrival brightened the bungalow which had felt empty and dull till then.

 

Lakshmi’s home town, Sivaganga is only about 50 miles from Pudukkottai.  On the way is the hill fort of Tirumayam. It is on a small hill, quite convenient for climbing and touching the cannons. However the locals do not respect the chieftain who built it. They say he betrayed to the British, Kattabomman, who was fighting the British and was later caught and hanged by them. Further up the road is Karaikkudi. This is an important town of Chettinadu region of Tamil Nadu. Many successful Bankers, industrialists and Businessmen have come from this town. It is also the place to shop for antique style wood sculptures, generally found in temple chariots and door frames of old large houses. Driving further, one finds Tirukkoshtiyur. The Vishnu temple here has three storeys- representing Pataaala, Bhoomi and Swarga, all of which are ruled by the Lord. All these places used to make the drive to Sivaganga feel shorter than it really was.

 

While driving once with Lakshmi’s father, we stopped and bought some soda to drink. My Tamil was still weak. I heard my father-in-law tell the shopkeeper something about his mapillai (son-in-law). I wondered why he was talking about me. Only later I found out that he had not referred to me, but only named the brand of soda he wanted-Mapillai Vinayakar!