Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Somaari Katte

(My write-up was published in weekly supplement, Star of Mysore, November, 2006.  
I have made slight changes here and there for this blog)


By nature, man is a social animal. It is this natural instinct that pushes him to be with other people as and when he can almost all of his waking hours, be it with family or friends. Mysore's salubrious atmosphere has been typically most suitable for lazing and relaxing. The Maharajas have arranged lovely granite stone slabs and sitting benches, called kattes [plural] in numerous convenient places which have bred so many somaaris [lazy people]! The "pensioners' paradise" tag is a hard earned one, you see!

All what the somaaris need are such kattes to sit. Somehow, there will be a katte located usually in the vicinity of their houses. It has been a popular practice, almost a sacred tradition in our city, to spend time that way, usually after the day's college/work. A small group of people of differing wavelengths (otherwise it will be dull!) somehow get together and a somaari katte is thus formed. Its formation or growth almost go unnoticed, but its activity can never.

The simple qualification is that all have to be somaaris. Sometimes attending the katte sessions gets priority over other works on hand, even studies, for the younger lot; domestic work, for the elderly lot! There can be danger of shortage of attendance too at kattes! Somehow, time is squeezed in for this. Such is its force of attraction.

Many somaari kattes are in vogue for many decades! Age or status is no bar (gender is!). Somaari kattes function usually from dusk and extend as late as 10 or 11pm (Sundays, there can be morning sessions) depending the hotness of the topics. Topics are not set. They keep diverting as they branch about. All subjects under the sun come up. Members voice their views in their own style, freely. At times, leading to healthy arguments and also unhealthy ones, leading to quarrels. The next session, they are friends again, even if the controversy resurfaces.

New ideas crop up in free discussions at the katte, unlike probably at formal meetings. One remarkable discussion was the cause of the formation of The Mysore Gymkhana in 1936. It happened in one such session on the stone steps in front of the then University Union building opposite the Maharaja's College ground where a group of youngsters were chatting in the evening. Sri M.Ananthaswami Rau, now 91, is a living witness. There must surely have been many such remarkable starting points at many other kattes too.

There was one somaari katte in the 60s on Gita Road that was quite popular - among the members, but not the neighbourhood for obvious reasons like eve-teasing, loud speaking...... Of course it is dead since long, as obvious responsibilities took its toll. There is another, much dignified, still in vogue, almost a next generation, close to this where yours truly is a 'member' for almost 3 decades. Most of us are connected to The Mysore Gymkhana and Javagal Srinath also makes it a point to attend whenever he is in the city even now. As I have noticed, this somaari katte culture has been partly responsible in building team spirit which has helped us win many cricket matches! Another now extinct katte was quite notorious to the same neighbourhood where even the police had to be called in to pull the boys up more than twice.

Older group of men choose bus shelters, closed-shop steps, stone benches under trees, even on the road's kerb stones (now heavy traffic disallows this). Often, sentimental attachments grow towards the katte. Younger members that have moved away for greener pastures and visiting after a long while crave to see the spot where a lot of their happy evening hours were spent, while his knowledge and friendships expanded.

Time spent at the somaari katte could be rejuvenating, inspiring, entertaining and enriching experiences, each evening having its own charm. A katte culture is unthinkable outside India where many from the city have traveled looking for better opportunities. Loneliness is a common ailment for them as they don't get to experience this katte culture and this is one thing they miss badly.
The somaaris may be doing physically nothing at the katte but then those that know first hand its fun, beauty and value, can say with pride that they are indeed the lucky ones! In fact, it is an information bureau in itself and better than any TV channel. No clicking of any button! Gossip, knowledge, fun, jokes, riddles, nostalgia, movies, politics, sports and what not! Long live somaari kattes!


Madhukar - VU2MUD said...

A small historical analysis of the Katte Culture (as I analysis it - Open to modifications and updations!!)

This Katte culture started with the somaries garthering on the village - or for that matter even urban - Arali Katte (Pepul Tree with a raised platform). A Pepul tree was a must for any Village or area and the area around it had a raised platform (Katte). As it was this Katte that was used by the Villagers to have the Panchayati (local judiciary) - it got the term Panchayati Katte. When the localites did not have any panchayati, the lazy one took over the katte for their own panchayati - that of time pass games of "kavade aate, chowka-baara (games played with kowries)and in later years card games (popularly depicted in movies occupied by the eve-teasers and the hooligans) - leading to the name Somari Katte. Being a shady tree - the pepul tree - the elders found it an ideal relaxation point to catch a nap during the hot summer days and discuss every thing under the sun - under the tree! This culture has now mutated to the urbanised Katte - who have now even become organised with a building to go with it - quoting the example of "Katte Balaga" of N.R. Colony Bangalore.

ER Ramachandran said...

We had a somari Katte in the intersection of Nagasandra Road and Uttaradhi Mutt Road. Opposite was a Jataka (Not the Mysore type Tonga) stand. When we were young, NUCC members used to camp there wondering whether they will survive in Mirza ,later, M.A.T. Acharya league or go back to their familiar Nassur division! K.G. Anantha, D. Ramarao, A.Y. Ramamurthy,M.R. Chandra,M.R. Patel, Bonda Ramachandra etal used to sit there. When they passed out of the katte,the National college boys -Kudumi College students took over. Drama chap Prasanna, Singet Ashwath-rare visitor, Somasundra, Myself ERR, H.R. Krishna Moorthy etc.You could sit on your cycle and lean on the katte or sit comfortably as if you are waiting to be served in Vidyarthi Bhavan!

I liked Katte concept so much , now I have a small Katte installed in our Apartment. We sit there and watch life go by as people go to temple, Ramakrishna Ashrama in the evenings. When you sit on the Katte, everything is fine with your world! That's the effect of Katte on you.