A few days back I used a wedding invitation as an excuse to make a trip to Mysore. More than the function I wanted to generally wander around the city and touch base with familiar haunts of my student days.
However, the biggest incentive was to take a look at Lakshmipuram, the place where our ancestral home existed till a few years back.
My paternal grandfather graduated with BA (Hons.) English in the 1880s and became an Amildar in the Mysore state government. His was a transferable job and over the years he saw several postings. In fact he received a commendation from the government for his efficient handling of the Plague of 1906 in his territory. It was his stated intention to finally settle down in Mysore.
Circa 1915.Lakshmipuram was an aristocratic residential locality in Mysore, primarily for the relatives of the Wadiyars. A few plots were released for other prominent citizens. My grandfather bought a large corner site on 1st Main Road with a loan from the government. Unfortunately, he passed away after a bout of pneumonia before the bungalow could be completed. My grandmother oversaw the construction after that. My father was the only son but he was just an infant at that time.
It was rather tough for my grandmother over the next few years as her only source of income was from agricultural land. She could not afford to live in the bungalow so she and my father moved in to a small house a couple of miles away and rented out the huge family home for a monthly rental of Rs 20. Yes twenty rupees ! When my father was grown up enough to understand situations she would bring him frequently to Lakshmipuram and point out his legacy and tell him that her wish was that one day he should occupy that house.
However, this story is not about my father. But, about some of the prominent tenants who lived in that house.
In the early thirties an Iyer family moved in for a rental of Rs 40 per month. It was a rather large family and their source of income was limited. The main bread winner was a young man who had aspirations to be a writer. They struggled to pay the rent month after month. The tenant later on became world famous as an author. Yes, R K Narayan. Despite the fact that the bungalow was sitting on a 15000 sq plot, in his autobiography, “My Days” RKN describes the place as: “We had to move on to a cheaper place in Laxmipuram (sic)….The house was smaller, less roomy…”. Perceptions sure vary!
The house had a small, narrow room without windows called the strong room. Presumably that is where the family jewels would be kept. For reasons unknown R K Laxman used that as his bedroom. RKN and his elder brother occupied one of the front-facing hexagonal bedrooms. The author describes this room thus: “Our room had a broad wooden staircase which led nowhere.” RKN sat with his typewriter on the top landing and typed his first play, Prince Yazid. This was more or less the beginning of his writing career. My father later sold the staircase for a good price as it was made from Burma teak. Decades later this same room was habitat for my wife and me.
I would love to think that some of RKN’s literary DNA was left behind in that room because straight from an engineering education I moved to a career in communications. While he wrote money-spinning novels, I ‘do’ blogs!
The next reasonably well-know tenant was the retired Principal of Central College in Bangalore. He was one of the few Indians of that era who had a D.Sc from the UK in Zoology. His doctoral thesis was on the Rhesus monkey. His son, A S Krishnaswamy took to cricket and at one time held the record for the highest score in All India Inter University Cricket tournament for the Rohinton Baria Trophy.
As the bungalow had a large compound with a vast tract of lawn on the site, ASK used that for net practice. He later was a reserve in the Indian team during the Australian tour of India in 1960. While playing for South Zone against the visiting West Indies team in 1958-59 he angered the fearsome Roy Gilchrist by hitting him for consecutive boundaries. Gilchrist bombarded him with beamers after that. He retired as the captain of the Mysore Ranji Trophy team and was also a state selector.
The last of the tenants was the family of the internationally renowned Sociologist, Padma Bhushan Prof. M N Srinivas. His brother M N Parthasarathi (Patchu) was a well known cricket commentator. At that time the rent was a princely Rs. 125. Patchu was reluctant to move out as the house was very comfortable. Added to that, there were five coconut trees and mango, sitaphal, papaya and sapota trees. In fact, there was even a sandalwood tree which had to be registered with the government.
After various postings all over India, my father retired from All India Radio in 1970 and decided to settle down in his inheritance. He finally succeeded in having the house released from Patchu after much diplomatic persuasion. It had taken exactly 55 years for the house to become a home for the rightful owner.
There was a bit of drama after we moved in. A large grinding stone was embedded in the passage between the hall and the back door. Water would stagnate in the depression at the centre. My father called in some workers to remove the grinding stone. After several days of digging we could still not see the bottom of the base. My father finally decided to lay a new floor across the passage covering the grinding stone. The workers were surprised at this decision as they thought we were searching for hidden family treasures under the grinding stone.