Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mysore Dasara Exhibition Memories

Dasara Exhibition at Mysore has always been quite famous but was certainly more charming in those times.  Let me share some most unforgettable memories from my childhood here.

This is a longish post.  With many memories and a few related photos, it could not be short and brief.  There are no pictures from those days to share, unfortunately.  But in an attempt to relive those beautiful days I've grabbed a few images of toys from the web where I could not share my own. If you have time, please read on and 'nostalgiate' yourself!
The month of September signaled the arrival of the ten-day Dasara Festival.  We eagerly awaited it - short vacation to schools! It was a time to switch our modes from "study" to "festive".  It was also the time when the Dasara Exhibition would begin and go on for two months.  'Dasara time' was a period when Mysore looked at its traditional and colourful best; Mysoreans, even better! The atmosphere was electric and the climate itself, salubrious.

"September" smoothly and vividly takes my memory down the '1960s and early 1970s' lane. After the grand Vijayadashami Procession, it was the Dasara Exhibition that sustained the 'Dasara spirit' extending for a few more weeks.

A bit of history.  The Dasara Exhibition was first started under the royal patronage in the year 1888, with an intention to promote, industry, art and culture, with which the city was rich and renown even from olden times.  In its initial years, it was arranged where the Fire Brigade Station in Saraswathipuram is now housed. Last year, I happened to peep in to see how this heritage stucture looked. 

This is the Fire Brigade Station entrance portico.

Inside its premise, these tiled structures would probably have housed the Dasara Exhibition in those days.

After some years, it was shifted to the spacious building belonging to the Mysore Medical College (next to the Railway Offices).  Its popularity had risen manifold.  Those who have visited here through the 1930s to very early 70s, will never ever forget that magnificent ambiance and charm.  The place had become renown as 'Exhibition Buildings".

The erstwhile 'Exhibition Building' as it looks from the road now. The grown up trees obscure it.

The above picture is from a Tourist Guide book of 1958.  The Exhibition logo board on top is seen. 
Imagine the series 'blinking light bulbs' on the parapet of the entire length of the building at night!

The decent exteriors, gateway, the blinking series lights that lined on the top of the full length of the building were lovely to watch.  "Dasara Exhibition" was displayed in neon tubes above the entrance.  It was Mysore's temporary "Disneyland"! On entry, the visitors were greeted by the captivating sight of the majestic, cascading waterfall at some distance. The beauty of the arena itself fortified its entertainment value. Entry ticket cost fifty paise for adults and twenty five for children between 5-12.

I visited the same venue after 4 decades to see how it was and took some pictures.  The ticket-window was still there in the entrance passage and the old structures in the premises still in tact, but somewhat neglected, or so I thought. There were some boys playing a game of tennis ball cricket. 

Imagine the cascading waterfall (against a light blue wall) to the left of the building there. It was a temporary structure erected on a stall.  Wonder if it was the irrigation dept. That was the most attractive arrangement.

We usually began from this side, clockwise. This building was not noticed as there were stalls all round!

This is to the right and we usually finished from this direction.  There was a platform which had been erected on a pool of water - it was clumsy. Only the concrete floor is remains now, under those trees.

Totally neglected area. Those were the very stalls which were very beautifully decorated by the temporary owners displaying various products for sale. This is towards the other end (west).

Those arches are still in place.  I think it led to the entertainment area - giant wheel, drama stage.... open area.

This is the entrance passage.  I have taken this picture after coming into the premises. It was in this building - now being used by Mysore Medical College itself.  You may like to know that this is from where Mysore Akashvani (AIR) also transmitted its programmes for a short period (first floor) before its own building was constructed.

Dasara Exhibition was the best chosen alternative for entertainment and relaxation, besides the cinema or the Circus that went on opposite the Palace during the last quarter of every year.  Almost like part of the custom, ''Dasara guests" stayed for many days on either side of Vijayadashami Day, whether the hosts liked or not.  There even used to be cartoons in Kannada magazines on this!  Guests, elders and children would reach the Exhibition either by bus or by foot, well before sun-down. The 'Tonga' [horse cart / Shah-pasand] was always another option.  Autorickshaws were hardly a dozen in the late 60s.  Even at that time, there were empty stalls for 2-3 weeks after the start of the exhibition. As such, more people planned visits after one month!

People pronounced "exhibition" in their own ways!  'Ejjamishan', 'eggibishan'.. and so on.  It was funny.

The "Ladies Section" was of particular interest to our family because my grandmother displayed her unique handicrafts there. Ever since 1931, she had been doing so and seldom did her talents went unrewarded. The neatly filled up certificates (dating back to 1931).  Its length is about 20 inches on thick sheet!  My grandfather had specially got a bound album to fit that size to preserve many such ones that were awarded to her in later years also.

A certificate from 1931.

 This work was made in 1935 using rice grains and won many prizes.

These are two works from paddy grains. 

Her crafts included the replica of the Clock Tower (1940s), a house named 'Gandhi Kuteer' (1950s),  pictures depicting the 'ganduberunda' [all pictured above] and a floral design using rice grains (made also in 1935 in the same way) and some other smaller crafts. They were really her chef-de'aeuvre. She used to proudly display them. These unique crafts are still treasured at home. Her culinary skills never failed to win prizes at the cooking section too. Muchore, Badami/halkova Obbattu were her specialties. I know, first hand, how tasty they were.  My mother too used to chip in with her talents and used to follow suit in the rangoli and crafts sections during the 1960s. 

I cannot forget one particular rangoli art, drawn by someone.  It was a beautiful large portrait [chest upwards] His Highness Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. It was done on the floor in one of the spacious halls upstairs in the same hall where probably Mysore Akashvani was broadcasting its programmes, before the present building [All India Radio] was built at Yadavgiri.

That rangoli was a lot like this image of his shown below, but with his Royal Coat:

There were photo studios having stalls.  It was great fun and fancy those days to get manipulated pictures like the one below.  The children would be made to sit on a wooden box seat with dark background for the pose.  It was fun to see the end print which was desired and ordered. 

[From album]

The Exhibition provided a beautifully balanced blend of shopping, education, entertainment, information [they have now coined the word 'infotainment'] and relaxation. It was in fact the Dasara Industrial Exhibition where many industries showcased their works.  Most of us skipped these stalls.

The loud speakers ['loud' is a really harsh word here because they did not blare to disturb] carried pleasing music or the programmes [dance or drama or music - no orchestra!] that went on the stage.  The popular voice of our local Amin Sayani - "Mike Chandru" who was probably beginning to make his career would fill the air.  He would announce names of any missing children who were brought to his 'radio room' by finders.  He would then ask the parents of the found child to come and 'collect' there.  Also, some friend would announce through him his arrival so that his already-arrived friend may come and meet him!  During daytime, Chandru would roam the roads in an auto rickshaw announcing that evening's programme, distributing pamphlets.  We would run [we were usually barefoot] after the vehicle to collect the thrown pamphlets.  It was like a competition among the boys as the pamphlets flew around on the street.  The ones who collected more felt 'great'!  You can imagine how sparse traffic was in those days for us to do that chasing!

In those days and beyond, Hygiene was an important subject in schools. No wonder, cleanliness was Mysore's trademark culture, which seems to have percolated down clogged drains now. The exhibition premises was as clean as one can imagine in those plastic-free days.  Children would drop chocolate wrappers or some poor-sensed elders threw their used paper holders they just had some snack on it.  The sincere sweepers were always on the prowl, armed with special nail-ended sticks to haul up such rubbish by piercing, picking and depositing in their shoulder bags without bending down.  There were stone benches for people to sit and relax. 

Cheap, short-lasting and simple toys were bought as if it was a right. The China ball [water balloon], the size of an orange, had an elastic attached to it. Holding this, we would release the ball and we had to catch it as it sprung back without touching the floor.  It was thrown in the direction of others also to startle them.  It would soon puncture and let the water out before we reached home!  That was the death of it!  I came to know now that it is called a Yoyo and found an image too.
[Yoyo ball - Web grab image]

The 'hydrogen balloons' were a wee bit expensive and they lasted till morning - we would leave it off at home and it would rise to the ceiling and stay there after playing that night!  The gas would weaken by morning and it would have dropped to the ground.
[Web grab image]

There also used to be balloons in different shapes - like that of a cat, etc.  This cat thing had a cardboard piece at the bottom.  When thrown in any direction, it would settle on the bottom - fun to watch!

The wind-up snake toy was another popular one like this.

There used to be a clay roller concealed beneath the head and a string to pull.  The snake body was of paper. The string was hard to notice and it could startle people easily.  

The monkey toy which was made using a bicycle spoke and a ball pen spring that held the plastic monkey was a great and funny contraption - the monkey would jerkily climb down the spoke, like it does a coconut tree!

From memory, I tried to recreate this toy for this post.  It worked!  Imagine that cardboard piece as a 'monkey'.  See this 17-second video [click here] how it works.

Who can forget the man making faces and selling moustaches and beards?
[Web grab image]
The ones with 'fake glasses and funny nose' were costlier.

The little tik-tok-sound-making metallic toy was sold for ten paise. Just before I put up this post, I noticed a schoolboy near my house going to school playing with such a one.  Only then I realized it may still be on the exhitibion-market.  That boy was also having fun by 'playing' it near his friend's ear.  The hum that persists after we hear it lingers and annoys for a quite a while!  It has a sharp shrill sound.

Somehow, this one has not been lost!  You can see the short video of how it works here on YouTube (click).

Another expensive toy was a microscope for which I pestered my grandfather to buy for fifteen rupees. It was from 'Dynam' company that made educative toys.  This may be in the last or penultimate year when the exhibition was shifted away.

This is the small globular lens of the microscope, now showing my garden yard! 

Embossing on plastic key-holder-rings had just made its arrival. My aunt got one made for me with my name on it. I was using it for my bicycle key for many years.

This toy elephant is my favourite.  It walks on its own, but only down a gradient of a particular angle. It is a simple design.  You can see how it walks in my video here - [click]

The above four are my most cherished mementoes of that Dasara dreamland.

The 'Spirograph' ![click on Wiki-link]  Those children who were fond of drawing got attracted to this beautiful toy.  One set with its box in tact, has survived!

Then there was that green painted tin boat that worked on a few drops of oil and a burning wick.  When the wick was lit, the boat would float making a 'phut-phut-phut' sound. The vendor demonstrated in a basin of water.  I found some information on this: [click here].  Pop-pop boat [image from Wiki]!

Long pencils with plastic cap shaped like the hand and armed with four sharp 'fingers' was another fun toy.  The fingers were meant to scratch our own backs and the junk pencil, the handle.  The pencil's lead was of lowest quality.  It would break and keep breaking at we tried to shave the wood for writing.  It soon became short.  It was unsuitable for writing, in the first place!  Imagine the thing in this web grab image as a foot-long pencil with a plastic cap having five fingers.

There were also small ball pens shaped like a filter cigarette.  We posed like smokers and even let out imaginary smoke!
[Web grab image]

The Magic Slate for kids was also an attractive toy.
Write something, peel the plastic layer to erase.. and write again....!

During a few seasons, among other plastic toys, there was the magic knife.  It had a yellow handle and gray knife, the same colours as that elephant toy above.  It was a fun knife because it was meant only for stabbing!   When 'stabbed', the knife would retract into the handle.  'First time onlookers' were fooled.  My grandmother was very afraid of watching me stab myself many times!  The knife died soon.

There was another toy - a plastic top like a pistol, which required a rubber band to wind.  When the trigger was pulled, the top would get released and spin nicely.

The Egg-laying hen was another beautiful plastic toy.  The hen's legs were so brittle that it would not withstand careless use.  Once they fractured, the toy was invalid.  A spring action of the legs when the hen's body was pressed, it would lay eggs. This is an image from the web.

Clockwork wound toy - Boxing.  

[Web grab image]

Impressed by the music the seller skilfully created with his instrument, we made our parents buy one for us.  This was the one-string violin.  It had a half-cut coconut shell on which a strong paper [sometimes parchment and costlier] was stuck to make the resonator.  A bamboo stick went through the shell.  To that, a string was fixed.  A bamboo-handled bow used on it created music!  See this video, somewhere from Mysore.   But we created noise and undesirable tunes at home as we lacked the skill.  The paper, string or bow would never survive long!

Bhadravati Paper Mills had its stall.  People made a rush to buy paper and books - Bison Brand - cheap and best quality. Usually the stock they brought would soon get sold out and people were unhappy at the short supply which made them to visit the exhibition again expecting a new stock!  The one pictured below is from about 1970.

This one below may be from the 1950s or so. My grandfather was using it. May not be from the Exhibition.

There were stalls erected by the many Cotton Mills for selling cotton items like towels, kerchiefs, napkins, bed sheets, bed spreads and the likes. It was the best place and time to buy them as they were direct from the mills and were cheaper.  There was good demand for these.

Our own Krishnarajendra Mills also used to have a stall.  This is a cardboard box of this famous Mysore mill.

There used to be more stalls outside the buildings.  This was only for a couple of years methinks. They were in the Jeevaraayana Katte [hope spelling is right] grounds across the road.  Separate entry tickets. I remember the famous singer of that time, P.Kalinga Rao standing in the queue before us. Elders had recognized him. One of his songs "Brahma ningay  jodisteeni yenda muttidkainaa.." was a hit.

There was an unforgettable incident. Three of us high-school friends from the neighbourhood, Rajagopal, Manjunath and I, decided to visit the exhibition one planned evening - our first trip sans elders. My grandfather was to pick us back at around 9 p.m. We enjoyed our time and it was time to leave. As we came out, the clouds came down! It was a very heavy thunderstorm. Panicky, we ran and settled in one of the bus-shelters nearby. This is the one:

Power failed, darkness filled. Still there was no sign of my grandfather. We were all afraid. Then suddenly, in one of the numerous flashes of lightning, I could recognize him under the umbrella manouvering the soggy path in front of us holding his pulled up trousers with his left hand. I called him out. We felt as if saved from a death-trap.  We returned home in one of the very few autorickshaws that plied our roads at that time. It was still raining when Mysore woke up the next day! The following morning's paper carried a headline: "14-hour continuous rain in Mysore". It is a record.  I have a separate post on this incident in the same blog. [click on that link]

In those days, neither was there harsh 'music' to 'entertain' nor any gobi-manchurian to tickle the taste buds. No one screamed for Ice-cream either! Yet, people enjoyed the fun in its purest form. There was no hullabaloo!

There were only few who owned scooters and fewer had cars. Even great personalities used the humble bicycle.  There was no need for a 'parking area' in or around the exhibition at all, if my memory is right. Those who came in cars or scooters parked them by the roadside and just walked in. Mysore was a small city and any locality was within an hour walking distance. Sometimes we took the bus [red was the colour then] or the Mysore Tonga {horse cart] to reach the exhibition.  Mostly we went by foot as there seemed to be lots of time on hand and we never rushed!  It was just two kilometres from home.

The Mysore Medical College was to take the building back into its custody.  It was painful news to all Mysoreans when it was made known that the venue of the exhibition was to be shifted to Doddakere Maidan.  Doddakere [lake] had dried up in the 1940s.  The shifting took place for the 1972-3 Dasara.  All of us remember how slushy it was the first time here after rains and how difficult it was for everyone.  It was miserable!  Gradually things improved, but we always compared it to the 'old place charm' of that Exhibition Buildings.

The sublimity of the vintage Dasara and the Exhibition reside permanently only in memories of those that have been part of it. 



ER Ramachandran said...

A treasure of memories.. compiled in sands of time. Excellent.Thanks for this Dinu..

jothi's jottings said...

A host of memories flood my memory after going through this blog. These were the very things that I also made my parents to buy for me. I also remember buying a plastic hen which, when pressed down would lay an egg. These eggs would have to be re-loaded into it through the hole at the bottom for further use. Naturally ,we would open the hhen to see how it would work. And that would be the end of it. We had to wait for one more year to buy another one, for those days there were no fancy stores as there are now. We were equally fond of the perfumed eraser, which we used to proudly exhibit in the class room.

I remember witnessing Usha UIyer's show at the old exhibition building. She continues to sing with the same energy even now. Amazing lady!

Anyway, thanks for bringing back all those childhood memories. Those were the days, huh!

YOSEE said...

This is a treasure trove of memories. "Rough Note Book", tin boat , magic slate, "ticki-ticki", monkey-on-stick...OMG ! Such cherished possessions they were !