The grand wedding of 1950 in Mysore
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The grand wedding of 1950 in Mysore

February 16, 2024

When a Brilliant Mathematician wed a Graceful Mysorean at a grand hotel in a stylish manner

By Girija Madhavan 

While dining at the Hotel Metropole in Mysore recently, I watched as a festive table was being prepared for a party; bringing back a sheaf of memories of a wedding lunch there in 1952.

At 14 years of age, it was my first formal luncheon in a stylish hotel and Metropole was indeed a grand hotel back then.

In those days, sumptuous wedding meals were customarily served as “Ele Oota” [food served on banana leaves] to guests seated comfortably cross-legged on the floor. This was going to be different.

This stylish wedding at Metropole that I’m reminiscing is that of my older friend Lalitha Kale with the legendary Harish Chandra, who many may not know now.

The newly married couple — Harish Chandra and Lily. The wedding picture is from their daughter Premala Chandra’s article in the internet.

Lalitha’s father Dr. G.T. Kale, a scientist in the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), came to Mysore in the 1940s with his Polish wife Hadasa Kale and their daughter Lalitha Kale, fondly called ‘Lily.’ We became close family friends.

Lily was born in Poland in 1934. The family got away from Europe and arrived in Bangalore when Lily was about 6 years of age. Sadly, Hadasa Kale, to her great grief, lost almost all her family in Poland during the Second World War. Lily had her schooling in Bangalore and joined Philomena’s College in Mysore for graduation. She shared a Tonga with some girl friends for the ride from her home in Vontikoppal to the College.

I always recall her as one of the most beautiful women I have seen. A statuesque 5’9” tall, with chiselled features, strongly marked eyebrows and exquisite colouring, she was the ‘Elizabeth Taylor with Brown Eyes’ to her admirers. Generous and kind by nature, Lily drew people of all ages to her.

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Mukta, my mother was close to her, corresponding with her and marking her birthday on Nov. 26. She kept many letters of Lily’s from abroad, writing her a poem about ‘Lily under alien skies’!

Lily and her mother Hadasa Kale with their pet Zippy (Alsatian).

Dr. Harish Chandra [1923-1983] was an Indian-American Mathematician, born in Kanpur. Roger Howe, in his biography of Harish, recounts that he was first to take up academics as a career in his family, his brilliance recognised even in his teens. Harish interacted with Sir C.V. Raman and Dr. Homi J. Bhabha. He studied with Mathematician Paul Dirac, considered the Founder of the Quantum Field Theory.

In Bangalore, Harish Chandra got to know the Kale family and Lily as a young girl. Charmed by the grown-up Lily, Harish proposed to her and their wedding was set for 28th December 1952 at Metropole Mysore.

It was a special day, not only because it was my close friend’s wedding but also because it was at the stylish Metropole hotel. For the occasion, Lily had given me a seed pearl necklace of hers which I wore with a saree for the luncheon.

Metropole’s dining room was glamorous with flowers everywhere and mirrors with ornate frames glittered on the walls. The chandeliers from the ceiling gave it a grand look and feel.

I remember Farrokh K. Irani and his wife Sheila, who had moved to Mysore in 1951 and had later set up Jawa motorcycle factory, were in attendance along with other stylish Mysore society folk. Luncheon was served, speeches made and toasts drunk in a happy ceremony.

14-year-old Girija wearing Lily’s necklace and saree for wedding lunch at Metropole.

The couple then moved to Princeton in the US where Dr. Harish Chandra, in an idyllic and supportive marriage with Lily, scripted his mathematical legacy to the world. Starting as a Theoretical Physicist, he became one of the greatest of modern Indian Mathematicians. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1977.  He died in Princeton at the age of just 60 in October 1983, after a heart attack.

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Their life story, illustrated with photos, has been written by their daughters, Premala Chandra and Devaki Chandra, in ‘Bhavana,’ Mathematics magazine published by Bhavana Trust.

I lost touch with Lily over the years. I called her in 2003 while I was in New York. She invited me to have lunch at her home in Princeton, a date I could not keep. She passed away in 2019, her memories as bright and vibrant as her personality.


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