Only our maids are keeping Mysore Mallige alive

BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: During the 1940s and ‘50s almost every house in Mysore used to have mallige growing in profusion in the open area either in front of the house or at the rear. Mallige creepers would adorn the compound and snake their way around the house in thick bushes.

In the evenings these buds, glittering like pearls, presented a magnificent view. And their divine fragrance would waft in with the evening breeze, thrilling the olfactory organs of residents and passers-by.

For the children, both boys and girls, it was great fun to pick these fragrant buds from the creepers, collect them in a butti, and hand them over to their mothers.

The mother in turn would patiently string them together, expertly, with her nimble hands, and when finished she would lovingly adorn the plait of the girls.

Then the children would rush around to play with their friends of the same age who would all be similarly decked by their mothers (and aunts and grandmothers).

In fact, this was the usual activity during the evenings in almost all houses in the Mysore of yore.

There used to be a competition among girls in the neighbourhood for hoovina jade which would thickly adorn the plait. It used to look magnificent and girls would exhibit it unabashedly.

Nowadays, only the dancers sport jasmine. What was once the trademark of Mysore has now shifted its base to Tamil Nadu where mallige is a thriving, flourishing industry.

This is probably another ill-effect of the construction boom. With buildings occupying most of the land area it is a luxury to have open space or to grow mallige.

So, only the memories remain.

Memories of unforgettable sights like young girls in hoovina jade getting into a tonga or an autorickshaw to be photographed.

Memories of unforgettable compositions like Ghama ghamamaadisuthhava mallige by Daa Ra Bendre or Ele ele mallige balukuve mallige balliya meleri by D.S. Karki.

Parameshwara Bhatta has immortalised it in his collection of poems under the title Mysore Mallige which perhaps depicts uncomplicated lifestyle of Mysoreans.

With girls opting for bob-cuts, there is no place for mallige in their hair.

In fact I have observed a new phenomenon, call it a transformation, it is the maidservants who invariably adorn their plaits with a generous bunch of mallige!

Without sounding condescening, it appears to me it is our maidservants who are keeping alive a great and grand tradition of Mysore.

And not just the wearing of it. During earlier times mallige used to be grown in and around Mysore—near N. R. Mohalla, behind St. Philomena’s church, and in Srirangapatna.

We now have to depend upon Tamil Nadu which sends every day about Rs 3 lakh worth of flowers to Mysore, the earliest supply reaching via Chamarajanagar around 10 in the morning.

I wonder if the mallige—one of Mysore’s most famous natural products along with silk and sandal—will soon go out of fashion and if it will only remain in the minds of the coming generations. As sepia memories of times past.