Thursday, June 14, 2007



All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So went a proverb.

Traditional games from gulli-danda to popular cricket were all enjoyed by children of the previous generation which belonged to the pre-Idiot box era. I refer to the 1960s and 70s. I grew up in an old house on Devaparthiva Road in Chamarajapuram, a locality named after the late King Chamarajendra Wadiyar. It was a locality that was planned as part of the Mysore City's expansion during the last decade of the 19th century.

The middle of the road and footpath was a virtual playground every evening, every holiday. Calling children back home was a headache for the parents! On holidays, they had to search the entire neighbourhood if they wanted their kids home!

The variety of games played on the streets and footpaths (no weeds in those times) was such that each season had a new attraction: summer, it was gulli-danda and marbles outdoors, indoors it was either chowka-baara, kavade, pagade, halagulimane, or any board games; festival season, it was playing tops; some houses had playing cards and we used to play many games with it among chess, draughts, snake and ladder, money-trade, etc. The neighborhood boys and girls joined the fun. “I spy you” was extremely popular as it needed only hiding space and no equipment. Traditional games had been designed to make the body healthy and the mind clean. The e-games of today gives only artificial thrill.

You may ask what about birthday parties….. in fact, they were not heard of! Those kids having their birthdays would bring in a (traditional) sweet or two (prepared at home) and share it among friends! It was such a peaceful event that helped good wishes to actually reach the kid! Look at it now – what a nuisance it creates! Cutting cakes, throwing shining powder (which also settles on edibles, thermocole balls, balloons, aluminium foils and finally noise from the “sound blaster” playing what they call “music”, under which the purpose is forgotten!! "How did you celebrate your birthday?", they would ask!

Hotels were few and mostly they had their own typical flavour and popularity. Ballal Hotel was once famous for its Masala Dosa and the Radio. Meenakshi Bhavan was more famous for its Radio than its dishes – Binaca Geet Mala was popular Amin Sayani presentation which people who did not have radios at home thronged here. Food sales and Radio seemed to have a link!

My grandfather joked when we asked for ice cream, "Okay, you scream."! There was no paani-poori, gobi manchoori or churmuri. But the Jamoon, Masala Dosa and coffee provided a satisfying kick. Raju's hotel near Old Agrahara was a popular joint where either my dosa-loving father took us occasionally or when an uncle visited from Bangalore.

Minds were comparatively unpolluted until the movie-world stripped off decency. Watching films in theatres was always with a family. Movies of yore (in toto) had a team of intellects. It's the opposite now. Movies had a theme, good meaningful script spiced with beautiful proverbs; they had sequences that touched emotions, but there were decent comedians in scenes to provide a good laughter when the scene got emotional or serious and they had suspense. We would sit attentively even for the Radio Soundtrack broadcast at 2.30 pm on Sundays! Children of today cannot imagine that. We have videos of everything at the click of a button!

A telephone and a wrist-watch were luxuries with scooters or motorcycles coming in next. Car-owners were even sparse. Power-failure was rarely heard. It was difficult to make the hose pipe to the tap stay on while watering plants - it used to flow with such explosive power! It was not in the thoughts to build tank to store water in emergencies – they were only for convenience. Water flow was generally 24x7 in most parts of the city. Overhead tanks were nowhere seen because there were no sumps or pumps! The entire city depended on dependable direct supply! If any water-stoppage happened, it was news! Now, it is announced in the press when it trickles in the pipes! Plastic was not recycled. We still have some 40-yr old materials still in use! Now we get dirty recycled plastic that gets brittle and breaks off from just a few years use.

Do you know that before the end of the 19th century, water was supplied from the Kukkarahalli Lake? I have a letter of an ancestor mentioning it.

The glare from the sun was not piercing like now. Except in the hot months, exposure to sun never scorched. Now even in winter months we have to bring the eyebrows closer to adjust to the glare. Onions were so pungent that it made all people 'weep'. Now hardly anybody “cries” –they cry or rather crave for junk food! Pizzas, Gobis and whatnot. “Chats” and Dhabas came from the North many years later. Rice was tasty – as it was also cooked over charcoal and in bronze vessels when pressure cookers had not made its impact. Rice of today goes under the trend “whiter the better”! Whites are dangerous they have come to know - White rice, maida flour, salt, sugar. Dining tables were taboo. Squatting was commonly practiced – for they knew no other method! Healthy practices were in vogue.

People had no joint pains and there was need only for the Family Physicians. Now we have 'specialists' for every part and even side of the body's organs!! You name it! Visiting family physicians was only after home remedies failed to give expected results and also without prior appointments. Sometimes the physician himself visited, because he usually happened to be a family friend who gave the healing touch, now unheard of! Now we run to a specialist for every cough and sneeze. The ‘compounder’ at the pharmacy mixing the colourful liquids that were taken home in bottles was a common sight. Medical stores were far and few. There was a doctor in the famous Krishnarajendra Hospital in the 1960s. He was supposed to be the most knowledgeable (in public view) doctor in that hospital and went by the nickname “Dodda Doctru” (of short stature, ironically!). I remember his name as Dr.A.K.Gopalarajan.

At night, it was common to offer food to those who came asking "Bhavati bhikshaamdehi" (in Sanskrit, "O Mother, give us some food"). They were usually poor Brahmin boys or men who came calling that in Sanskrit standing at the gate. A few visited often and there was genuine disappointment when there was nothing to offer on any night. It was also a tradition that they should visit houses only after the normal dinner time.

Some families also had the noble tradition of "Vaaraanna" ವಾರಾನ್ನ (weekly food). One poor college student used to visit us for dinner every set weekday during the mid sixties. Some people from the poor section of the society also came for alms during the morning hours. On Saturdays, "Daasayya" came for alms by blowing the conch and striking that flat bronze plate with a stout wooden stick to produce a nice vibration. A coin or a handful of rice was offered to him, which was gleefully accepted.

There were no food considered as 'junk' in those days. The bakeries attracted customers with colourful icing on cakes and flavoury biscuits and chips. Bread was brought home only when someone had fever! It was common to ask "who has been unwell?" at the bakery counter if we encountered a known person! There was no rush in bakeries nor hundreds of items! Just a few cookies, bun, bread. Bakers diversified when they thought customers needed more than bakery items.

There was a time when a game using cigarette packs was popular among street boys. How I wished someone at home smoked at that time!! As such, to me, availability of empty cigarette packs for this game was very scarce. So I and another boy used to roam the conservancies (a gully where dirt and garbage was thrown out of house and from where the scavengers entered through the back door to clean the night soil in the lavatory -- they have now become roads!) in search of the thrown packs, much to the chagrin of my elders! It was considered an unhygeinic place. Folded packs used to be piled up by the boys to be hit with a flat stone and out of the ring. He who hits the packs out of that ring, kept them. There was one "Iyenger Shop" next door, selling provisions, cigarettes, beedies and such. So once I was there and found a cigarette pack on the floor. I silently picked it up and went home happy to have found one for my game. But I felt something inside. It was a full pack with cigarettes that had accidentally fallen. I was too afraid to return it. So I threw out all of them into a hole in the ground and covered with soil to escape being noticed. I kept the empty pack - I think it was "Scissors" brand. That game was called "Tikki".