Once upon a time, arriving in Mysore

SHASHIKIRAN MULLUR writes: We came to Mysore mostly in summer, arriving into the railway station, where the tongas stood in line awaiting us. Of course, the grown-ups had to bargain first and the tongawallah always lost, and began the ride with a look of intense disappointment.

Soon that look would go, he’d get businesslike, distribute us about the tonga, and once satisfied that the system was in balance, would settle his own weight to one side and prod his animal to top speed.

From wherever we came, over the years, Mysore was always spectacular: Gulmohar crowned the trees and carpeted the roads the whole distance. Every few seconds a building of the unique Mysore style came up, giving a sense of being in a royal place, in a town that had a large palace in it, and in which the maharaja lived—it was probably the maharaja still living in the palace who kept the streets and the whole town so clean.

We’d look in front at the pretty lanes coming into us; in the middle of the scene the colored decorated spike fixed on the head of the horse danced up and down before our eyes: up and down, side to side. Then we’d look back to the receding street and in those days it felt like we were going very fast because the flowers and the stones and the gravel appeared to rush below us, and the trees also rushed by on both sides.

Then we’d be home and running into the shade of the coconut trees, the sampige, the bilpatre, and the mango; it was hot outside, cool inside on the red-oxide floor. Outside, the tongawallah would make a parting effort with the grown-ups for a higher fare, persevere, win a little, and leave sounding sorely disappointed.