The rest of democratic India that is Bharat—indeed, the rest of Karnataka that is not Mysore and Bangalore—will not understand the fuss over the passing of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the last link to the rajas and maharajas of Mysore, who lorded over a tiny five-star kingdom for 614 years.
Although Srikantadatta’s own role, even as a member of Parliament, may have been infinitesimal in the republican era, the imprint that the benign and benevolent royals left on generations of Mysoreans is immense: in our education, in our arts and culture, in our attitudes, in our palaces, roads, gardens and clubs.
Here, one grateful 22-carat Mysorean pays a 21-gun salute.
Mysore of the 1970s when I was growing up as a young boy.
There was an air of well-proportioned dignity to it; a rare kind of regality; a sense of easy sophisticated charm; in the quietude and tranquilLity that pervaded the air like a gossamer thin veil, a kind of strange allure that no other place in the rest of Karnataka possessed.
It showed in its beautifully laid out streets; quiet, broad, tree-lined, leafy and handsome. And in the magnificent but slightly dulled mansions of Lakshmipuram with their delicate fountains, more often than not with the statuette of Lord Krishna, standing with his right leg elegantly over his left and a flute to his lips.
In the bungalows of Vontikoppal with their bougainvillea-smothered porticos, where invariably stood in grand aloofness, a car, mostly either a stately black Ambassador or an Austin of indeterminable vintage, a subtle indication of a certain exaltedness.
And in the greying grandioseness of the homes of the privileged. European in style and dimensions, with their wood latticed windows and many structured floors, their green gardens with red geranium creepers hanging from moss covered earthen pots in the balconies.
In Nazarbad and on the rain-tree lined street leading up to that white beauty of splendid stature, the Lalitha Mahal palace, nestling under the imposing omniscience of the Chamundi Hill.
Inside these mansions could be found Mysore style paintings in gold.
Paintings of goddess Chamundi, astride on a lion.
Or a beautiful swing with its ivory in-lay showing delicate flowers and mango motifs.
Or a rattan sofa.
Or a teak or a rose wood one, with its cushions in cream and white.
The massive black head of a gaur or a chital with its huge antlers fixed to the walls around, trophies from a long concluded hunt in the awesome jungles of Bandipur or Kakanakote, not too far from Mysore.
Mysore was unique.
A kind of baby of the Wodeyars, the kings of the dynasty that ruled for an impossibly long 600 and odd years. A baby born into serious privilege. A baby that had everything laid out for it.
Mysore was like none other. For sure. The Maharajas showered it with the kind of luxurious abundance that no other town or city in the state could ever imagine.
So fascinatingly royal in its demeanour and style.
So laid back and mellow.
So very easy in its manner.
The Mysorean was a gentle, soft-spoken, easy-going kind of man for whom the din and tumult of a Bangalore or Bombay was anathema; a kind of culture shock which left him dumb founded.
Not to him the mindlessness of heavy traffic, not to him the frenzied pace of business, not to him the rush hours of life where clambering on to a bus or a train defines the difference between success and failure.
To the Mysorean, life was almost always meant to be an unhurried, relaxed, quiet and elaborate repast. And even to this day, it is largely so.
At the many social clubs that you find in the city. All set up by the Maharajas.
Like the Cosmopolitan Club, the Narasimharaja Sports Club, the Race Club and the Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Club. Where many an evening has been spent observing intellectuals discussing and debating weighty matters of scholarship and the casual gentry deliberating on the timing of Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement!
Over soothing glasses of scotch of course!
The royals of Mysore gave to the city a kind of atmosphere where there could be seen a sense of luminous exuberance in the general affairs of existence.
The impact of the Maharajas could be felt everywhere. In the manner in which stood the royal palace built out of fine grey granite in the heart of the city with its deep pink marble domes, under whose amazing arches on the day of Vijayadashami, erstwhile Maharajas climbed on to the magnificently caparisoned royal elephant with its shimmering silks and glistening ivory tusks covered in a sheath of shiny gold.
In the slightly standoffish seclusion of the Rajendra Vilas palace in the distance, perched like an eagle’s nest at the edge of the Chamundi Hill where not too many Mysoreans ventured, even when it was being run as a luxury hotel.
In the red turrets of the Gun House next to the main palace, a tony bar and restaurant in the early 80’s, where you found some exquisite continental fare served by liveried waiters in an atmosphere of absolute mellowness, to the accompaniment of cool, soft, easy English numbers sung by a portly singer called Saby who rode an old but well preserved Yezdi to work.
In its culture of music concerts during Rama Navami and Dasara. Where some of the greatest and the most accomplished of singers and instrumentalists from around the country felt it a singular honour to perform.
In the manner in which the University was shaped. Where some of the brightest and most sharp minds came to teach. Like Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a professor of philosophy at the Maharaja’s College, then one of the most revered institutions of learning in the country.
Like Professors J.C. Rollo, A.B. Mackintosh, W.G. Eagleton, B.M. Srikantaiah and S.V. Ranganna.
Inside whose classrooms with their teak wood tables and benches sat, as students, the likes of M.N. Srinivas, H.Y. Sharada Prasad, T.S. Satyan, ‘Veene’ Doreswamy Iyengar, R. K. Narayan, U.R. Anantha Murthy, P. Lankesh, Kuvempu, Ta.Su. Shama Rao, G.S. Shivarudrappa; the list of the great and the prodigious can go on.
The campus housing the departments of higher learning, so poetically named Manasagangotri.
Where stands, sentinel like, the Jayalakshmi Vilas palace, that takes you back even now, to the time of the 1800s, when Mysore was a tiny little town cocooned in kingly warmth; a reminder of the munificence of the royal family which gifted hundreds of acres of their personal property for the cause of setting up these post graduate schools of learning as they exist today, amidst a profusion of greenery and wooded bliss.
Where apart from students, you find walkers and exercisers of all shapes and sizes, willingly getting their daily fix of muscle toning activity. A lung space so beautiful and leafy, it could perhaps be compared to the ones in the universities in distant England, especially after the cricket ground named Gangotri Glades, one of the prettiest in the whole country, was developed!
As the orange hued flames begin to lick the sandalwood pyre of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, veritably the last of the royals of Mysore, the mind stills and the heart aches.
Perhaps in the deep longing for the Mysore that his ancestors created and left behind or in the feeling that all good things, as the old line goes, shall never last forever.
Photographs: Karnataka Photo News