Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Life in Mysore, back then and now

In College during the early 70s, there was a popular rhyme doing the rounds: What a pity, Mysore city. May be someone had felt that deterioration had already started! That was at a time when there was still some fresh and clean air to breathe, clear roads to drive, not much crowd on the footpath, 24x7 water supply, no power cuts, no TVs, no mobile phones but just ‘land lines’ and that too not in all houses, taxes were reasonable, less corruption in state govt. offices, no plastic menace, no garbage clearance problems, no tuition menace to students or no vulgarity in films. Life was certainly peaceful and comfortable even compared to life of the 50s, the elders feel. There was not much difference in life in the 2-3 decades prior to that also. The value of the rupee had its full 100 paise only up to 1960 and thereafter it slowly got devalued.

Not for nothing Mysore WAS a renown ‘Pensioners Paradise’. The slow easy paced life was typically Mysorean. People coming from the busy cities like Bombay and Delhi would get restless even in the early 1970s. My friend from Delhi who came to spend his summer holidays (school) in his grandmother’s home would leave sooner than schedule saying he had nothing much to do and Mysore was too slow for him.

‘Westernization’ and industrialization of Mysore has made it busy, polluted, and populated. It is no longer an old sleepy city. “Industrialize or perish” said Sir M.Visveswaraiah, the then Dewan of Mysore. Though industrialization is of benefit in many ways, peace is perishing! Citizen peace and development of a city are inimical. Transformation has happened far too quickly than one even dreamt, including the city planners. Mysore’s closeness to Bangalore, its salubrious climate, hospitable people, cheaper charges for land, housing and education, have added to the woes of the peace-loving, dwindling original Mysorean. A heavy influx of people from other places (for greener pastures) has added to the crowd everywhere. Rates have soared. Our country is good at sending prices like rockets to space!

The advent of TV has affected Mysore’s social life very badly. Friends’ families and relatives reduced social visits. Mind you, there were no appointments taken for such visits as they are done now, over telephone. People would just drop by for a chat or a coffee or even a meal. Some relatives even landed with luggage from other cities, uninformed. Of course, life was different and with joint family system in vogue, the door was never locked. Nuclear families have sprung up. Now many do not care who the neighbours are. They just lock themselves in, in their own world of the TV!

TV has killed the enthusiasm of attending public programmes also. The famous music festival esp. during Rama Navami period was of such popularity and one could notice a sudden fall in attendance as soon as the TV was made available to Mysore City in the mid 80s. After 25 years of TV’s arrival in Mysore, things have gotten worse. It is providing cheap entertainment (only a small number choose the educative channels) and wasting people’s valuable time which in olden days people (ladies) would learn crafts and culinary skills. Now they tell they are bored! As such, Mysore’s amateur artists have dwindled away.

Children were healthy as they were playing outdoors. Calling them in to homes was a big problem for elders. There was probably one “child specialist doctor” who was (is) renown. There was less sickness because people were closer to nature. Grandmothers knew home remedies and there was less need to run to doctors who were also far and few. Unless the ailment was of really serious nature they resorted to simple solutions.

Children went to schools leisurely and playfully returned home and did homeworks only under pressure, after being forcibly called in from their evening street games. There was no tuition menace. There was no need for parents to save money for tuitions, donations and education fees! There was no rush for LKG admission of kids, nor were there any competition for Engineering and Medical seats – only those who could afford the courses joined as seats were easily available. Teaching standards – the old generation teachers – real teachers – were still at large in the few schools and colleges. Education still had some meaning. Pressure from various angles has led to deteriorating standards in recent times. This is unthinkable in our city which is renown for education!

People depended on what we now call “snail mail” and the humble postman was anxiously waited for, for any communication that relatives or friends wrote. Now we use mobile phones to communicate how many times we sneezed.

We listened to the humble radio for news or waited for the morning newspaper. TV and internet now keep us abreast, live. People thronged with families to theatres with great enthusiasm because movies were good and educative – had touching stories and meaningful songs. Stage dramas held frequently at different venues had good crowds too.


Dasara festival saw public participation in genuine enthusiasm because everyone revered the Maharaja. It was really a great time with guests from other places visiting and pitching tent in relatives’ houses to take part in Dasara festivities ending with the grand “Dasara Meravanige”.

Life was cheap. Charges for filling of air to cycle tyres were three paise for two tyres and two paise, if we wanted only for one. Two peppermints were available for one paisa! The police constable was a thorn to bicyclists because he would catch for ‘wrong side riding’ or ‘light less riding’ and check for licenses which was an embossed aluminum token fixed to the cycle (on payment or a small annual sum to the municipality!). At night, to avoid being caught by these constables who hid behind trees and dark places to catch victims, bicyclists used either a candle kept burning in a paper cone half filled with sand to hold the candle and show the light holding the cone in one hand while riding or special kerosene lamps fixed to the handlebar or an electric dynamo which was costly. My bicycle headlamp has a ‘dip and dim’ switch to avoid glare to oncoming people or other cyclists! Now even car headlamps glare dangerously in high beam and no one cares, so un-Mysorish!

We had book circulating libraries having a crowd of members. Printing presses and book publishers were a busy lot. TV and computer have put the reading habit in jeopardy. E-books are no substitutes for the printed book.

Grandmothers prepared traditional savouries in myriad varieties in those days when hotels were few and street-side eateries, ‘chat centres’ were unthinkable. People’s taste buds were satisfied with just Masala Dosa and coffee! Churumuri, Pani Puri and Masala Puri made their impact around the 70s when people got out of shackles that ‘eating out’ was not that much a sin! Ice creams? No one screamed for ice creams. There was no ‘Joy’ to enjoy! Perhaps only one or two parlours like Phalamruta in Lansdowne Building prepared ice creams that attracted children.

Children played all variety of games right on the streets or in wide footpaths. My grandmother used to warn “be careful of the cyclists!” When a rare scooter came by, leave alone cars, the activity paused to make way for it.


Before dawn, we could hear the lion’s roar from the zoo even 2-3 miles away. Now buildings and other noise absorb those sounds what with the zoo itself is getting thinner in animal population. The zoo was a magnificent place to visit and the Primates section was a great source of entertainment from the chimpanzees that smoked cigarette butts thrown at them and ate peanuts like humans!

Development of the city is towards the wrong direction. Under the pretext of developing the city, something else is happening. Technological development is more a bane than a boon because people are disusing it more than using for positive and constructive things. Kitchen conveniences have made women lazy and unhealthy in general. They suffer from ‘modern day ailments’ like knee pain, depression, BP, diabetes, etc. All are resultants of mainly lack of social contacts, less of physical and mental activity. No wonder the ‘medicare business’ is thriving now. Surely, not good a good sign for the health of a city like Mysore. Earlier, there was only the Krishnarajendra Hospital and a nursing home here and there to take care of health revival.

A slow development of the city as it did before the 60s was not felt at all and that was a desirable speed. My grandfather’s time typically did not have a tomorrow. They lived on the day. The wants were only basic and never exceeded limits as there was no need for extra and hoarding was unknown. Any extras were either accepted and shared or refused! Virtues of a person were held in high value which is the other way round now. Nobody cares to respect the other. People never raced against time some decades back and we seemed to have lots of time on our hands. Hurry was not a Mysore thing before!

Rapid improvement in communication network, technological development and transportation facilities are contributing to most ‘modern day problems’. It is the speed that is worrisome and the administration is ill-equipped to keep pace with them. If Mysore does not learn the lessons from Bangalore, it will soon become a second Bangalore. The city planners have a very responsible role to play in Mysore’s future. Let’s hope our Heritage City of Mysore wont be an eye sore.

5 comments:

shanks said...

Well.. true life was like that, but what is the inference of the posting, has Mysore degraded itself morally, spiritually, intellectually. Nature and life is dynamic not static. My reasoning as to why we do not visit friends and relatives is that we are tired after a day's work where efficiency had to be increased unlike in the past. We spend more time at office than at home. So being at home is to be to himself. Expectations were little from all offices. But today it is very high be it at CSIR Institute or at a school or at DC's office. So people are zapped out. It is not the love of TV that is keeping people inside.

Same reason with eating out. Earlier we were blessed with low traffic and short drive home to have lunch from office which is not possible now. So had to eat from canteen or non warm food cooked in the morning. Importantly, today both members of the family go out to work unlike in olden days. Lets be fair to them also, they are also tired to cook in the evenings and if it stays un consumed its a waste. So go out and eat as much as you want period.

Going further, some of people who are blessed with parents still around, do not want their mothers/in laws to cook and take the trouble. It is with a good intention they want them to enjoy for they have done their bit in their prime days.... See More

As for schools the competition has increased. So today it is like standing on a Thread Mill. If you stand you will be thrown away. So you need to be always running just to stay in one place. But we want our kids not just to stay at one place but to move forward, so this rush.

Less we talk about going to movies better it is. Is any theater in Mysore worth a visit by a family? How many have you visited in the last one year and why?

True we used to hear the roar of the lion from Zoo, so also the cry of the new born child every year at home. Why have we stopped at one child today?

Good nostalgic reading but like has many dimensions, rater than grieving at the bygone.

Keep posting

jothi's jottings said...

Made me yearn for the good old days, Dinu. When even a paisa had its value. I still remember the day when I lost a paisa while fetching home a cigarette for my father. I was beaten black and blue for that!

And what all we did to escape from the policemen when we didn't have a light on our cycles! I remember the evening when I 'escaped' from one when he became more ambitious and tried to stop another 'lightless cyclist' who did not heed to his command to stop.This had him chasing that fellow and I with 2 others made our escape.
And then the games we used to play, indoors as well as outdoors! No limits to them.
Congrats on a good post.

Dinakar KR said...

Thanks Shanks!

I agree, but I've only posted some memories and comparisons which were compiled for some other purpose. I've just put it up here without altering it, only to put those memories in one place. But still, we can make things slow down at least a wee bit, which will be benefcial from all angles.

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Gouri Satya said...

Very interesting postings about old Mysore and good old photos also.