When the Mysore turban gave way to the roomal

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: This is not the right time to talk about the divide between Old Mysore and northern Karnataka. The northern part of the State is reeling under the flood of the century, and needs all the support and sympathy old Mysore and every other part of the State can give.

But, as Karnataka turns 53, the Rajyotsava is as good a time as any to revisit Chiranjiv Singh, the distinguished turbaned bureaucrat, who beautifully describes the divide in the article below, excerpted from the admirable anthology on Bangalore edited by Aditi De.

Chiranjiv Singh is often times referred to as more Kannadiga than the most Kannadigas. A scholar and a thinker, he has written books on Kannada and Karnataka in both Kannada and English; he was the first secretary of Kannada and culture department. He retired five years ago as additional chief secretary.



The Cultural Backdrop of Bangalore

By Chiranjiv Singh

When Devaraj Urs changed the name of the State from Mysore to Karnataka, there was jubilation in northern Karnataka, but a sense of loss in old Mysore. I remember the unhappiness which many people expressed to me at this symbolic act; for them it was a break with a cherished past, a loss of the rich cultural legacy of the Maharajas of Mysore.

In Bangalore, in a matching symbolic act, K. Balasubramanyam, the respected revenue commissioner of the State, gave up his old Mysore gold lace turban (Mysore peta) in favour of the black cap of northern Karnataka.

“When there is no Mysore now, why should I continue to wear the Mysore turban?’ he said.

The elegant Mysore gold lace turban vanished, along with the culture it represented. It is seen now in Sir M. Visvesvaraya‘s portraits which hang in schools and offices and in the ‘ in memorium ‘ columns of daily papers, where grandparents are occasionally remembered with their photographs.

In the Vidhana Soudha, the northern Karnataka turbans (the roomal) drew attention amidst the Gandhi caps for a while. The minister of urban development Mr Upnal with his outsized turban, was jokingly called ‘the minister of turban development’.

Now Bangalore has no time for Gandhi caps or turbans.

The divide between zari peta and the silk roomal remains.

A saying current in northern Karnataka, which was quoted to me by Mahalinga Shetty of Hubli, who was married into the old Mysore family of S. Nijalingappa, the first chief minister of unified Karnataka, meant ‘Don’t trust the zari peta-wallahs’. The zari peta-wallahs thought the roomal-wallahs were odd and rough.

Across this Old-Mysore – northern Karnataka divide stereotypes persist.

When I suggested to a film maker who was planning to make a film and television serial on Shishunala Sharif, the mystic poet-saint on northern Karnataka, who is sometimes compared to Kabir—raised a Muslim and becoming the disciple of a Hindu—that he should use the northern dialect which Shishunal Sharif spoke and wrote in, he said, ‘No, it won’t run. The northern Karnataka dialect in Bangalore is still used only for comic effect.’

If jokes are at the expense of the other, then Bangalore has many others besides the northern Karnataka ones; north Indians, Tamils, Telugus, Marwaris, Christians, Muslims, each one laughing at the other, behind their backs. But for all that, Bangalore remains a serious city.

Swalpa adjust maadi‘ (please adjust a little), that cliched phrase often quoted while referring to Bangalore’s culture, has become meaningless. Calcutta and Hyderabad could as well claim the phrase and, during floods, Mumbaikars showed more adjustment than Bangaloreans.

Perhaps the distinguishing feature of Bangalore’s culture is the ability to live within divisions and to rise above them at the same time and accept the new oppenness. This flexibility is helpful in times of constant change. Food habits are changing; clothing is changing; houses are changing; ways of life are changing; entertainment is changing; culture is changing.

Jasmine sellers are changing over to selling vegetables; demand for jasmine strands is declining because many women now sport short hair and do not decorate their hair with jasmine and Kanakambara flowers. Looms that weave Bangalore silk saris and dhotis are dwindling because men and women have taken to Western and Punjabi garb.

Also read: Chiranjiv Singh on H.Y. Sharada Prasad

The finest passage in English on Karnataka?