More musings about our Exhibition!
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

More musings about our Exhibition!

April 7, 2024

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

Going by some very interesting feedback that I have been getting over the past one week, my last article, where I discussed what our Dasara Exhibition meant to me in the days of my childhood, seems to have touched the heartstrings of many readers, putting them too in similar nostalgic moods.

There is nothing surprising in this deep and abiding sense of attachment because our city has a very rich heritage where art, culture, music, different kinds of trade and business enterprise, were very actively promoted, thanks to the keen interest our erstwhile royalty had in the well-being of its subjects, over many centuries.

The first responder, as usual, was my close friend, Prof. R. Chandraprakash who needs no introduction to the readers of Star of Mysore because he himself writes articles for the paper quite often. Having not just lived in this city all his life like most other Mysureans, but also having had a very keen sense of observation and concern too, for how the city has been transforming itself from being a sleepy pensioners’ paradise to a happening hub at a fast-galloping pace, he can certainly be counted as a very rich resource person, as far as the recent history of the city is concerned.

In his letter to me, he has recounted how our Dasara Exhibition was a show on a very small scale, standing on only a part of the ground adjacent to the Mysore Medical College. It appears it was only much later, during the early sixties, that it was extended Northwards till the point where the Vidyavardhaka First Grade College now stands.

As I remember, this end was where the amusement park was, with its food stalls, merry-go-round, horse riding circuit and Ferris wheel, which although quite small by today’s standards, was then most imposing, earning for itself the name of ‘Giant Wheel’.

It was perceived as being so big that small children would be dissuaded from taking a ride on it, on the grounds that it would be a very frightening experience for them, from which there would just be no escape midway!

But when I finally managed to hitch a ride on it, after many years of pleading and eager waiting, I stepped out of it thinking that I should have taken the ride while I was still young enough to be perhaps frightened by it!

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Prof. Chandraprakash recalls how Chandrika Soap from Kerala, which is now a world-wide brand, used to be sold in the exhibition from one of the smallest kiosks there, while Brooke Bond and Lipton, the now two giant brands of tea, used to promote their brew by serving it in pristine white porcelain cups and saucers, at highly subsidised rates to gain customers and a brand following, at which they seem to have succeeded eminently, going by their stature now.

But very sadly, Indian Coffee House which adopted the same strategy, somehow lost the race and has all but disappeared from the beverage scene. Prabhat, Komala and Hamza, the three leading bakeries of that time, used to always occupy the same three island locations, year after year and they used to compete with one another mainly with their cakes, hot puffs and badam milk. Sadly, all three giants have now lost the race for supremacy in the bakery arena, in our city.

The stalls manned by Sikh and Sindhi gentlemen, selling cutlery and kitchen equipment used to be another attraction for me and most other people too. Their owners with their incessant banter, would demonstrate the versatility of their wares and their own prowess, by magically transforming all kinds of vegetables into neatly chopped heaps, to the amazement of the onlookers.

As a newly married husband, in my eagerness to please my wife, I used to stop at these stalls while she herself would be most uninterested in wasting her time there and I would invariably pick up a magic chopper or slicer for her. But although very quickly I discovered that the way to winning a lady’s heart did not lie in this futile exercise, it took me a very long time to desist from buying these gadgets, sheerly out of my own fascination for them. The result of my misadventures is that we now have in our home, every kind of kitchen gadget, gathering dust over the years, while sitting in its unopened box!

Another reader, M. A. K. Tanveer has written to me about how he as a child used to be most fascinated by the stall of the Forest Department where one could hear the calls of almost all the denizens of our jungles, while walking through the dark and very real looking canopy that used to be recreated there with real plants and trees.

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Just next door would be the stall of the Police Department, where the main attraction would be the Policeman who would stand at attention, almost like a statue for hours on end, in an impressive demonstration of the discipline inculcated by his department. We as children would touch him and even nudge him, only to find him gently swaying, just a wee bit, like a real cardboard statue. Try as much as we could, we would never succeed in getting him to smile, despite all our collective antics!

A stall where a man and his wife would melt glass tubes fashioning birds and later filling them with coloured water, used to be a very favourite stop for me. The duo would do this very deftly by blowing the flame from an ordinary oil lamp with long brass tubes, to melt the glass and shape it to their liking. In a showcase at home, where my mother has still carefully preserved almost all the toys from my childhood, we still have a pair of the long-tailed glass birds that we have bought from that shop, more than sixty years ago!

I used to be so intrigued by the frequent announcement on the public address system at the exhibition about lost children that one day I decided to deliberately lose myself, just to give myself the thrill and honour of hearing my name in such an announcement. I had found out well in advance, the room, adjacent to the main gate, from where these announcements were made and so walked in there with a fake look of anxiety and told the Policeman manning it that I was lost.

Instead of giving me the joy of hearing my name being announced, he gave me a couple of toffees and asked me to sit there and wait for half an hour to see if my parents would come looking for me, failing which he would announce my name. This defeated my plans completely and I left the place discreetly, while he was looking the other way, because there were more interesting and exciting things for a boy of six to do at a fair, in a precious half hour, than sit and do nothing, in the company of a grim Policeman!

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