By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
We Mysureans take a great deal of pride in the beauty and the rich heritage of our city, much of which has been very carefully hand-crafted by a very far-sighted royalty. Almost anything and everything we see here in Namma Mysuru is unique and markedly different from what we see in most other cities.
Almost every locality in the city has a few so-called heritage structures which have been so designated in the year 2004 by a committee that was constituted to do this. About 234 buildings were shortlisted to be in this elite league but after much string-pulling by many vested interests, 198 were finally given the exalted heritage status. These buildings include many Palaces, Government Offices, Hospitals, Lodges, Guest Houses, Markets, Colleges, our Railway Station, our University building and our two Clock Towers.
The Mysuru City Corporation (MCC) was supposed to be responsible for their maintenance, preservation and protection. But from what we have seen down these nearly twenty years it seems to be doing nothing towards fulfilling this responsibility after performing the initial ‘Namakarna’. I say this because except for the few structures which are being looked after by their respective owners or users, almost every other heritage structure is crying for some much-needed immediate attention.
Going by what we have seen in the past, by some eerie coincidence, the month of August which is just round the corner, seems to be the one that forebodes the worst for our best and most iconic heritage structures! On 25th of August, 2012 we saw a portion of the Lansdowne building collapse, taking with it four innocent lives. On the 28th of August, 2016 we saw a huge chunk of the northern portion of our Devaraja Market building coming down, thankfully without any loss of life this time. Then on the 10th of August, 2019 we saw the portico and front portion of our Fire Brigade building in Saraswathipuram coming down, miraculously sparing the lives of a Home Guard and a Post-woman by a few milliseconds.
I do not attach any significance to the fact that all these mishaps happened in the month of August except for the fact that August is one of our rainiest months. And, heavy rain, along with good old time are undisputedly the two among the three worst enemies of old buildings. The third enemy, of course, is sheer neglect, which is the one that is most avoidable and therefore the most unpardonable.
Every one of the three structures I am talking about here have a very rich history of their own which is very closely interwoven with the history of our city. The Lansdowne Building was built to commemorate the visit of Lord Lansdowne who was the Viceroy of India from 1888 to 1894. He came to our city on the invitation of our Maharaja Chamaraja Wadiyar X and the building which was completed well before his arrival was inaugurated by him on 10th November 1892. Paying rich tributes to our Maharaja, Lord Lansdowne in his speech said: “There is probably no State in India where the ruler and the ruled are on more satisfactory terms, or in which the great principle, upon which his highness has insisted, that Government should be for the happiness of the governed, receives a greater measure of practical recognition.”
This building has played a very noteworthy role in the history of the Sarada Vilas group of educational institutions. Rao Bahadur Bakshi Narasappa started the Sarada Vilas Pathashala in this building to teach Sanskrit which later went on to become a full-fledged Primary School. To me this building is very dear because of two reasons. Firstly, it was the place which at its Northern end, housed The Newspaper House, a book shop that I used to frequent almost every Sunday morning to pick up my diet of reading material. Its owner Lakkur Raja Rao, a most gentle and kind-hearted man, about whom I have written some years ago, used to urge me to take away all the books and magazines I wanted, without bothering to immediately pay for them. What more could a book-loving boy ask for?
The treasures I picked up there still stand on my bookshelves after having enriched my life and personality like nothing else! This was also the place where I used to meet writer R.K. Narayan very often as he too, like me, was a frequent visitor to the place. The writer had taken a liking for me, which is not very surprising, because Raja Rao had introduced me to him as a boy who at a very young age had bought and read all his books!
And, on my part I have had the unique privilege of sharing half a glass of warm badam milk with him, thanks to the kindness and generosity of Raja Rao who used to get it from Phalamrutha, the adjacent juice and ice-cream shop. It is a different matter that while I always craved for the chilled version of the drink, I had to be content with the warm version because that is what Raja Rao thought was best and safest for a young boy and an old man!
The second reason for my attachment to the Lansdowne Building was because of the second-hand book shop that stood at its Southern end which I would visit after I was done with my shopping at The Newspaper House. It was owned by a man called Nanjundaswamy, who sported a huge moustache and who was also just as large-hearted as Raja Rao when it came to allowing me to pick up books without having to pay for them immediately.
Once when I picked up a book on experimental psychology there, Nanjundaswamy told me to keep it very carefully because it was long out of print. Maybe he was right but the reason why I picked up the book and why I was going to treasure it for the rest of my life was because it was co-authored by my own father!
Between these two shops at the two ends of the building, bang in its middle, stood two other shops which I would peep into without actually buying anything there. One was the old-fashioned Srinivasa Power Press owned by my close friend Ravi’s father K. Ramu. It used to be a pleasure to watch him at work, painstakingly doing his typesetting or making rubber stamps out of real raw rubber that had to be cured by cooking on a kerosene stove! The rubber stamp of my name which he made for me fifty years ago, is still with me, after having left its mark on every one of my books from that era!
The other shop I used to visit was the National Watch Co, owned by the two Khuraishi brothers, Aminulla and Ataulla. Knowing my interest in anything mechanical, they used to not only very obligingly show me the innards of all the clocks, time-pieces and watches they used to repair and service but also explain their working principles to me very patiently. With most of my Sunday forenoons spent like this there, it is no surprise that I can now only look at the dilapidated Lansdowne building which has now become an eyesore, with a deep sense of nostalgia and pain!
[To be continued]
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