Beginning of the end of Mysore as we knew it?

ARUN PADAKI writes from Johannesburg: London has it, Paris has it, so does New Delhi. A clearly identified nerve-centre in the heart of the city; a focal point from where these great cities got built, grew and evolved.

Like other great cities, Mysore too has one and it is the main Amba Vilas Palace. Everything—be it dwelling colonies, trading posts, entertainment arenas, playing fields, washing facilities—was more or less built around it.

The western and the northern sides of the Palace over the years turned out to be prominent ones with Sayaji Rao Road hogging the limelight with large buildings housing many of the Palace Offices, small trading areas and a very well-conceived Market.

With the Dasara procession gracing this road, Sayaji Rao Road assumed all the more importance. Whether you live in distant Ballal Circle (is this far off any longer?!) or Bengloor, or whether you have migrated to Boston, this vivid piece of Mysore, in and around Sayaji Rao Road, has held a place of its own in the life of every Mysorean.

Most of us have bargained a rupee or two for a dozen Nanjangud rasabaale or the chickoos on Sayajji Rao Road. On a sultry afternoon, we would have cooled ourselves with the cold badami haalu from either of the Bombay Tiffanies or the Indra Bhavans—or the famous ice-creams from Phalaamrutha.

On a wet day, the lip-smacking dosas or bonda-sambars followed by a hot filter coffee would have kept us going. Not to leave out the Guru Sweet Mart near chikka gadiyaara for our own Mysooru Pak.

The walk from Cauvery Handicrafts upto the Palace is one magnificent aspects of Mysore—something we have cherished for years and something should treasure for years to come.

The once-famous Devaraja Market has its own flavour to offer—the whiff of the fresh greens, the colourful vegetables, fruits, varieties of happlaas and the fragrance of the Mysooru mallige is unforgettable. (Well, not on a wet day though.)

Chikka gadiyaara is witness to a myriad events. The vociferous fruit vendors, the cyclists, the fancily parked autos, the dozens of our Nandinis, yes the cows… they all love this square, don’t they?

Then the circle that adores the architect of modern Mysore, Krishnarajendra Wodeyar.

Undoubtedly, K.R. Circle is the heart of Mysore. A few strides away, in the Lansdowne Building, are two shops located at either end that bring back memories of handmade ice-creams and second-hand text book stores that paved the way for many a career.

The experience on the tree-lined walkway is blissful. You have the option of buying anything worthwhile every step we take. To many, the leisurely stroll is not complete without a glimpse at the well-stacked window of Bata.

Well, all this is on offer on any day. What about those nine days during Dasara when the grandeur that is Mysore is on display and celebrated? The lazy strolls, the shopping sprees on the eve of Ugadi or Christmas, Dasara or Ramzan, the bargaining, the hawkers, the masaal-dose, filter coffee, etc are all part of our Mysore folklore.

It’s truly a heritage we have proudly inherited and for generations this has been the way of our lives.

Like all good things, though, fears of Mysore being robbed of its charm are creeping in. There are worrisome discussions like widening Sayaji Rao Road or demolishing and rebuilding Devaraja Market.

Is something awry—something worse—waiting to happen in Namma Mysooru?

Lurking a few metres away from where the spice-sellers squat near Theatre de Olympia, and close to K.R. Circle, is Makkaji Chowk, and the vacant land is about to be made way for a hi-tech mall.

Is this to be read as an indicator of an impending disaster on the blessed land of Sri Chamundeshwari?

Is our Mysore way of life threatened?

Will we ever be able to do our lazy strolls again?

May be, we could, if our footpaths are spared, if the Devaraja Market could get some sunna-banna, if the chikka gadiyaara is freed of the cows.

It is clear from the noise that the Mysore City Corporation is creating, that a second Bangalore is in the making. Given MCC’s track record, it might turn out to be worse. Narrowing footpaths and allowing malls and multiplexes in the heart of the city is a cue taken from the BMP’s books.

The proposed mall shares the distinction with another for creating a horrible mess in the central business district of Bangalore. (A peek at this link would be informative.)

If a hurried approval of the mall was a smack on the face of Mysore, the sight of the previous Council of the City Corporation lauding itself for having got the mall cleared, was a disgrace. For, these are Mysore’s own people.

# Are they not responsible for the city and its denizens?

# Are they not supposed to make things better for us, uphold Mysore’s characteristics that are very dear and unique to us even from Bangalore?

# Why such a bigoted, hare-brained approach?

# How can we ever fathom the existence of a mall next to the iconic Palace?

# What will happen to the aesthetic Town Hall and its sprawling campus? Will that be made a parking space for the mall?

# Has any thought been given to the congestion that would result from the mall and the multiplexes within?

# Are we losing out to the selfishness of those who have no social responsibilities and only want to make a quick buck, the city be damned?

In the recent recorded history, the most destructive events have been the big fire that destroyed the Mysore Palace in 1897 and the fires that destroyed parts of the market in the last couple of decades. Is MCC trying to score points over these events and proving to be more destructive? If ever Mahishasura descends from the same position as he is standing atop, surely he would bay for these destructors.

Let us all spare a moment, and ponder over whether we could have a Mysore of the yore with a bit of Mysore of today, and a Mysore that could stand out in the future, a Mysore that could preserve its old fabric and weave a new one with a blend of new age necessities.

To answer the above, a few more questions crop up which the citizens, the political establishment and the administration should get to the table and resolve:

# Shouldn’t we, more so the political leadership, take pride in the City’s heritage?

# Shouldn’t there be a hearty public participation to stand up and oppose any cheap overtures of ‘development’?

# Why can’t the Fort areas of old Mysore be spared from any large-scale modern intrusions?

# Can’t we run trams or dedicated buses in this part of Mysore, which could be a wonderful spectacle?

# Shouldn’t we consider making this a walk-only zone?

Why not learn from Warsaw, where the post-WW II colonies and structures are preserved as they were or from the historic Spice Bazaar of Istanbul which still retains the oriental surroundings?

Or why not emulate Panaji, where precedence has been given to walking over traffic? Isn’t tourism all about walking to explore? Can’t we build the swanky establishments as a new town, a little distance away from the good old city?

Shouldn’t town planning be a practice in true spirit?

In a recently successful movie, Saif Ali Khan threatens Madhavan that he will cause harm where it pains him the most, pointing towards the heart.

What about the ill-conceived ideas of widening Sayaji Rao Road and the mall at Makkaji Chowk? Aren’t they aimed at causing harm to the heart of the city? Will this mark the beginning of the end of the Mysore way of life?