My grandmother's house was on a busy main road that intersected 5th main in Saraswathipuram. Buses hurtled down the main artery from a slope to the right of the house and zoomed their way up to the fringes of Saraswathipuram, to Kuvempunagar and beyond. Jataka gaadis assumed a more stately pace, the clip clop of the horses' hooves early in the morning, mixed with a lash of the whip and the clucking sound of the jatakawallah heralding a gaadi full of children being taken to school.
The flour mill a few buildings up the road was busiest in the afternoons, when housewives had a break between lunchtime and preparations for dinner, the high pitch of the motor mingling with the high-speed flapping of the belt that went around the machines. Depending on which of the two mills in the shop was running, we would smell the warm spicy aromas of sambhar or rasam powders or rice, roasted wheat or ragi. The aroma of coffee from a shop that sold coffee powder was a permanent fixture, as was the sound from the tailor's sewing machines across the street from the house.
Her garden was her pride. She took great care of the myriad plants and trees in her garden. The sampige tree, well-grown and in full bloom in the summer was a favorite hangout and I would be her flower picker, climbing higher and higher on the tree at her direction, standing at the base of her tree, her pallu filling up with the flowers I dropped from my perch. The scent of the flower and the beautiful golden yellow of their petals are stuff of nostalgic reveries.
The sampige tree was flanked on both sides by two mature coconut trees. My grandparents would watch them carefully, trying to assess the correct time to call the gardener who would climb up the tree and pluck the coconuts and dead branches for them. The garden also had a papaya tree, a curry leaves tree and assorted flowering plants, such as rose and hibiscus and daria, all lovingly tended to first thing in the morning by my grandmother.
Her favorite hangout in the evenings was the Rama Mandira, across the street and off to the side of the house. It was a gathering place for her friends, to listen to hari kathes (I remember one I went to in which the gentleman giving the discourse went on and on about how the planet Shani (Saturn), was in fact, not a bad planet) and Carnatic music concerts, to gossip about goings on among their friends (who got married, who's still available among the younger generation), and to exchange craft ideas and recipes. I was a faithful tagger along, an able factotum to my busy bee of a grandmother.
When I visited Mysore a couple of months ago on the way to Kabini, the road was busier than ever with way more autorickshaws and two-wheelers than I remembered,
the flour mill and the coffee shop were gone, and, sadly, so was my grandmother's house as it looked in my mind. Someone else lived there, the garden was taken over by a building, and along with it went the sampige tree and the rest of the plants and trees.
The Rama Mandira, on the other hand, remained unchanged. The entire coconut grove as I remembered it was intact, while the temple itself occupied one far end of the plot.
The Rama Mandira
The other thing that remained unchanged that I discovered joyfully, was my school, Christ the King Convent near Ballal Circle (behind Ganesha talkies, which was dilapidated and buried under miles of brush - the result of a family feud I was told). The kho kho field remained exactly the same,
The Kho Kho Field
and on the day I visited, the school band was practising, just as we did - rat a tat a tat, rat a tat a tat, rat a tat a tat a tat a tat a tat a tat! On a hunch, I walked down to the Staff Room and discovered that my Kannada teacher still taught there! It was a strange experience to see someone who belonged in such familiar surroundings while I was going back there almost a stranger after being away for so long.
She carried my daughter (talk about surreal!), we chatted for a while, reminiscing about my classmates, the fun fair we had (boys were allowed to come in and they did, seizing the only legit opportunity they had to come into an all-girls school and the teachers still talked about the amount of money we collected that year), the other teachers, some of whom had retired and the others had passed away. On our way out, I also met my art and craft teacher and we chatted some more.
School had ended and the teachers and students headed home. I carried my daughter back to the car, rode on the same streets I had walked on and ridden in a bus on all those years ago.
On our way out of the city next day, on a lark, we visited the Mysore Palace,
and that Mysore institution, Dasaprakash, where the prices seem to have frozen on the menu all these years.
Our waiter was an elderly gentleman who waited on us patiently as we tried to figure out what to eat just after eating a full breakfast at our hotel. We settled on a couple of dishes and a round of South Indian filter coffee for all. We were not disappointed.