A Mysore view

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 incredibly, 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 seem 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. More recently establishing “Seeing is Believing Events” in India to encourage businesses to be more responsible and create leadership programmes for corporations. Stephen has two adult sons living in Vancouver, Canada and London, England and a gorgeous granddaughter.  He now lives in Mysore, where he’s now set up MyCycle: Mysore Cycle Tours to help visitors discover Mysore, Srirangapatnam and their surroundings at a human pace.  

An important ‘date’, a big event

It happens but once in a lifetime

It takes a fair amount of preparation.

The proud father.

Some are already finding it all too much

Satish explains that both he and his wife are from villages where it’s still very important to celebrate this event

On the day itself he rushed home

It’s now a couple of weeks later on a specially chosen auspicious day. Hundreds of family and friends are expected. There will be a ceremony, gift giving, photos and a slap up meal.

I think that close proximity to the only foreigner at the event might be what’s worrying them.

It’s filling up…… it’s like waiting for a performance.

It’s ….. Sukrutha, Satish daughter’s coming of age, traditionally in villages it would be very very significant as it would signify that a young woman was ready for marriage.

it’s still very important for Sukrutha and an added advantage is, she can now wear big earrings. 🙂

Manjula would have been very sorry to miss this important event in a girl’s life. When Manjula reaches the same age. She had no idea what to expect and when it happened knew absolutely nothing about it. It was an altogether different experience. There was no family there let alone a gathering. She was working away from home as a maid and her madam spotted what was happening, cleaned her up and explained that she’d started her periods.

It obviously came as a major shock to Manjula. What a difference with a stable family and caring parents.

Farrell Factoid

A girls’ first period, known by some as a ‘date’, would traditionally signify that she’s ready for marriage. Clearly not the case nowadays but still incredibly significant stage as she becomes a woman. The celebration of the event is a great opportunity to bring people together and create community, still especially important in village life.

Manjula’s very different background meant she was already out working at someone’s home separated from her family and without prior knowledge of what was to happen. Where was her mum in all this? Look at how early she was working away from home all on her own.

It has to change.

You have my sympathies.

I’ve posted what must seem a constant stream of feelings. It also can’t be easy to find your way around the many postings.

It reminds me of an interview I gave to a journalist in the UK, years ago. I was working on an innovative approach to engage local communities in helping guide local public services to be more responsive to their needs. After I’d explained my approach. He said, so you launch a whole series of custard pies some hit and some even stick While some fall by the wayside.

I’m beginning to think meandmycycle.com is not dissimilar. A series of disconnected postings ranging from the bizarre, mildly interesting and hopefully a fair few that connect to you.

I’m working on that same theory. Randomly works, sometimes.

Thank you for sticking with it and me.

But I think I need to get a bit better organised and the blog more focussed.

So over the next few weeks I’ll start to focus on:

Our story, with two separate parts Manjula’s amazing story (I’m not biased, the more interesting by far) and Stephen’s

There will also be insights into this amazing country….

Life in India

and some bits a pieces:

Titbits a sort of hotch potch

Clearly labelled (yeh!)

I’ll use feedback to review, amend and revise.

So please….. As always, comments are appreciated and feedback on what works for you and suggestions of how I can improve would be great.

Thanks for your invaluable support.

Working in Mysore

Life continues in the midst of my own private chaos

These workers can be found outside jewellers shops throughout India

In a few minutes he’d rethreaded my Tibetan bracelet which was showing signs that it might break soon.

I have most definitely nearly stopped buying things for the house. Manjula would complain that there was no room left for any more, usually paintings.

I did however have to nab this box and the guy beside them on the pavement made a new key to fit the lock.

A further selection of photos of workers can be found here

Here’s men in action on the main road near our home.

Health and what?

Kerala farewell

We’re slap bang in the middle of a highway

Winds are picking up and rushing through Lucie’s hairs.

The traffic is relentless but not orderly. We are in India. There are always patterns so it’s invariably differently organised from what you’d expect from the point of view of a westerner.

Much of the traffic is fully loaded others on the lookout antennae twitching, scouring, searching for its next load to carry back to the nest.

I wonder….What time do ants get up to start their working day?

The sun rises burning off the moisture lifting the misty fog.

It’s quite noisy with bird life making its presence known. Now and then the crack of a gun. What do they shoot out here? Rabbits? Birds? Wild boar?

Manjula is with us on the rocky outcrop in the mini photo I’ve introduced to everyone we met on this trip. She’s probably met as many people as we did on our mini holidays. It’s a bit weird as I don’t give the full details, just that she’s my wife from Mysore.

It’s time to move. The old mans knees and calf muscles are showing signs of age as every day passes

Lucie the pack leader that she is, the one to track through memory and smell leads the way.

A siren blares. Think Second World War. It’s time for work at the tea plantation or factory.

“Luce wait for me.”

She chooses not to wait for me. By the time I reach our hillside cottage she’s way past it down at the bottom waiting for breakfast.

Another great Kerala Wayanad breakfast and now it’s time to move again and leave the Dhanagiri homestay.

Thanks to Anant and his lovely family.

It’s a significant anniversary

Today, exactly four weeks after my beautiful died I’m at the old people’s ashram.

In memory of Manjula we’re gifting all today’s meals. I’ve arrived an hour early so it’s time to chill, remember and reflect and in a very limited way feed my addiction to share with you guys.

Back in Siddarthanagar smileys have appeared on the road, overnight.

Using stencils and water soluble spray paints they are another simple way to discreetly and publically remember and acknowledge.

There’s a fair amount of sweeping goes on at the ashram.

Checking out Manjula

Team briefing

As per usual. The girls are completely ignoring me. I’ve offered Manjula a new job and here’s the detail of the tasks and targets!

Ok so I’m not the worlds best artist 🙃 it’s how I communicated her job when she first came to work for me….

Here’s a photo of the original job description!

yes, there was a day when Manjula actually worked for me. Now we know that the tables have turned.

This is just my way to help support her and to focus on what’s important such as eating well, putting on weight, exercising, not being in bed too long, welcoming and chatting with guests, taking meds on time. Above all fun things and seeing the world through a glass half full

Here’s Manjula summarising how her jobs changed over time. A week or so before she died.