Thursday, December 16, 2010

Going back in time in Mysore....

In the last year and half, I have been to Mysore several times with my colleagues, mostly a come-to-the-town-take-a-cab-to-client’s-office-and-return-home-soon-as-possible type of trip. I had not really seen Mysore despite my two dozen plus visits there. But then, a few weeks back this changed when my boss asked me to go to this sleepy town for two days. With an agenda which did not include the usual routine but many stops across a town experiencing communal tension…and I was going in solo! After my futile pleadings about the language barrier and threats of coming back as a ghost to haunt him if I become a casualty in the riots, I set out for my unwilling adventure.

When I got down from my bus I noticed the cool weather and a relaxed population, a tame scene for a city inflamed with communalism (I expected a man holding an axe as a part of the welcoming committee). Nevertheless, I began to explore the town I thought I knew so well and realised that for a small town, Mysore was very spread out. Everything was little further away from everything else. A friend explained that a distance of 7-12 km between two destinations was normal in Mysore.

The local authorities had kept enough room for future growth of the town. This also meant a lot of walking to move from one point to other. Once I stopped complaining about the distance, I realised that I was in a land where time has stopped since early 20th century. Passing through the streets, I saw numerous houses which could have been easily constructed at least five decades ago and still going strong. I was a little shocked to see some famous Mysore based companies housed in establishments which could easily qualify as locations for horror movies. My afternoon passed by appreciating the architecture scattered around the city. The famed Mysore palace was just one in scores of similar monuments.

Later in the evening, my friend explained that the town had several palaces and monuments which are being used for various reasons ranging from the art galleries to corporate and government offices and of course, hotels. We dined at the Lalit Mahal palace, built exclusively to accommodate the Viceroy of India, but today functioning as a heritage hotel. The great food, the local folk musicians and lanterns in the garden proved to be an amazing dinner experience. After dinner we drove around the city, enjoying the cool breeze, my companions pointing at various towers with teeming lights around the city which falls asleep before the clock strikes ten.

Despite my early apprehensions of being a casualty in the riots due to my very questionable knowledge of the local language, I was surprised that I was able to move around the town without any difficulty. Of course not everyone knew Hindi and English (the only languages I can speak) there, but the people were quite helpful giving me directions with broken words and sign languages (lot of hand signals) to my next destination. Twice, I reluctantly agreed to let some stranger drive me to my next destination, fearing that this might be the last thing I do before I become another statistic in the line of fallen men in the unrest. But nothing happened!

My visit was almost ending and in spite of my apprehensions I was yet to see some action which was being spoken about so much in the media these days. Out of curiosity, I asked my hotel manager about the riots. He joined me for coffee and explained that the unpleasant activities were actually limited in only one neighbourhood and the rest of the city was completely unaffected by it, unlike the media reports

As I set off for home, a bit sheepish that all my fears were unfounded, I was quite happy that I had been sent there by myself. Mysore had opened itself to me in a number of ways which I had missed on all those earlier visits. Now, to learn the language... just to be on the safe side, you know.

Also Published in DNA, Mumbai edition -