A short story with a serious edge from Stephen Farrell
A Mysore view
The cyclists meandered around the Rangoli, passed by the Hero Stones and entered the bustling square to find the usual rich mix of India. Women fetching water and washing their pans, children playing and slowly becoming intrigued, being drawn to the new visitors. Men hanging out at the corner shop.
Slap bang in the centre was a fenced-in stone lingam, with the slow ooze of offerings running down its face.
The onslaught of their senses as they entered the square, the smells, the colours, the activity, the extraordinary mix of people living life to the full, reminded them all of their first experiences of this incredible, unique, paradoxical, unexpected country.
The visitors, were themselves a rich variety of ages, nationalities and experience, from Europe, down under, Canada and a couple from Mumbai.
Everyone saw and experienced something subtly different. Maybe it was the different housing ranging from the old mud single room dwelling with its country tile roof, or the three storey concrete towers; the clothing, the women washing the front of their house, dealing with the children, the smiles, the welcoming, the dust, the noise, the smells, the chilli and lemon hanging in the doorway, two wheelers, the multiple designs of Rangoli, the auto rickshaws and the old ambassador, the hanging Mango leaves left from a recent festival, the constant presence of Gods and their many temples and symbols. That cacophony was reminiscent of all that is India, where different things jostle for attention, cheek by jowl.
Now the group were engulfed with interest from the local people… children posing for photographs… women carrying water and smiling as they passed… the lounge lizards at the shop, the friendly stares and conversations were like a returning boomerang and neatly reciprocated….so we wondered out-loud, who is really watching who?
Most definitely in these moments that make up every day we were building bridges and breaking down walls . Cycling helps us to be participants, to be travellers and perhaps less of the transient tourist.
It was however time to move on….
The flow of cyclists quietly moved through the remaining narrow streets in this compact community in Mysore.
We gently pass amongst the houses of the poor and the not so poor, cattle ambling or hanging out in their house sheds, cow pats drying, people greeting us, past endless local temples. This represents a traditional way of life that in some ways has unchanged for hundreds of years. Its people may have little in terms of material goods but have a quality of life that the richer west are looking to rediscover.
Just minutes away from the Palace at the Centre of the City. It’s a reflection of the past, of times gone by, of the village that grew and existed way before it was absorbed into the city, yet still retaining much of that earlier character. Above all, people remain connected to each other creating an atmosphere and lifestyle that can be both positive and life enhancing.
Like the society of which its part. Being taken over whilst retaining its character.
Like India itself regularly invaded over its vast history, absorbing influences without losing its essence.
On our continuing journey we pass through many more areas of the city that seems somehow less colourful, less inter-connected, the community less active, its dustier and dirtier, congested with traffic, the activity is commercial, people setting up shops cooking breakfast, frying samosas, patting breads, its still active but somehow its different ….. something about it is diminished. Its much more ‘developed!’ in a simple sense.
We stop for a chai, an opportunity to consider what we’ve seen. Our different life experiences bring an added dimension to these conversations. We’re all committed to gaining insights and growing through sharing our, opinions, culture, humour.
In our view, there is nothing to quite match that first neighbourhood and its lively community. Its remarkable in many ways and somehow retains something of its original spirit, people are out and about and outgoing, friendly with easy communications whether its a smile, the one handed namaste, the head rock and roll, above all it seems connected, people gather together when others need help, the community is somehow healthier and seems unbroken as its not lost its spirit to the urban juggernaut.
In contrast other areas of the city seem to have something missing.
The connected community, its traditional approach compared to the other more ‘developed’ areas, can be seen to reflect the challenges facing the bigger city. As we grow and change there is the risk we could lose what makes us special. There’s a clear message that we should recognise what’s important and not lose the richness that we have before its too late.
Overall the city has an incredible mix, institutions set up by the Maharajas to serve the community to help with their health, to develop a vocation and gain an education, for all sectors of the community from wrestlers to Tonga drivers, from villagers wishing to better themselves at college to the city dwellers, the opportunity to meet and share their grievances, everyone can be part.
Here, there is, something of a metaphor for Mysore. The city has managed to retain its human scale in the face of urban development, it has an essence worth keeping, a friendly open aspect, connections between people, traditions, with history oozing from its porous buildings and abundant greenery, whether in the form of its formal gardens, the tree lined avenues, lakes and parks. Yet it is changing, it has to and will develop but we need to mimic what happens in the small village or in this great nations history and hold onto what’s special and makes it unique, the magic of Mysore.
The Author: Stephen Farrell
Stephen is from the UK and has a varied career in charities, government and business, the main emphasise of his work has been to help people engage and connect within their communities or organisations. Initially establishing “Princes’ Seeing is Believing Events” in India to encourage businesses to be more responsible, he’s also designed and delivered leadership programmes for corporations in India and elsewhere. Stephen has two adult sons living in Vancouver, Canada and London, England and a feisty granddaughter.
Since moving to India twelve years ago, he fell in love with the radiant Manjula. They set up Mysore Bed and Breakfast and MyCycle: Mysore Cycle Tours to help visitors discover Mysore, Srirangapatnam and their surroundings at a human pace. Manjula sadly died in 2019 but their work continues as does their growing community of guests that has become more of an extended family.