An ever changing small group from siddarthanagar cycles around and sometimes up Chamundi Hill setting off most mornings at 6.30 am from Mysore Bed and Breakfast.
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.
She was only a little mite but even in a very short time has left a gaping hole.
I first heard her yelping as we passed during one of our MYCycle Tours on Srirangapatnam. It was as if one of the guys at a chai shop was teasing or hurting her. I sort of adopted her. For the next week, I saw her every time we passed by.
First impressions were not good. She was slow, almost subdued, had what seemed to be a scar on her head, was pretty run down and a couple of days later was completely covered in fleas. I fed her with milk each time and the locals, who have got to know me over the years realised she was adopted. Typical firangi! She seemed to be really very young but was already lapping up her milk. Her mother was nowhere to be seen. Pups are often cruelly separated and dumped. I treated her and got rid of the fleas. I decided to kidnap her (no one gave a damn) and took her to People for Animals ‘rescue centre’ aka death camp. ( a bit unfair but the level of illness and death is known to be high).
Ruby, as she became known with variants of Too, two and tue…. was left at the rescue centre for a check up and treatment but not for too long. It’s a lovely place with caring staff and volunteers but a lot of illness for puppies. I brought her home after a week. That in itself was a quandary. Should I have left her there for longer? What would the women of the household think?
At first she seemed to be managing OK. Eating, although not very much, the quantity of worms she expelled was amazing. This was the first of three lots. Her means of carriage, the princesses pumpkin with handles aka the shopping bag was ideal and endlessly entertained the local children. They couldn’t believe it when they noticed her little head popping out, I have of course reinforced their view that foreigners are more than a bit weird,
Lucie and Ruby’s relationship was a ‘work in progress’ they generally kept a discreet distance.
She developed a cough and chest infection, laboured breathing, running nose and constant diarrhoea. We seem to be at the vets every other day. They’ve stuffed her with antibiotics, a drip and minerals to rehydrate, vitamins, powder to stop the shits you name it, she’s had it. Michael-virtual-vet-Heath, in Australia was advising from afar. Back at home I created a den out of a cardboard box with a lovely bed with pillow, blanket and neat little door to get in and out. As things seemed to be getting worse I’d just nurse her. Manjula reckons for most of the day. Then the three of us would go out on our Adams family jaunts.
On reflection if might have been better for her to stay longer at the centre and perhaps she was too vulnerable even for the bath. Who really knows. We did our best but for our lovely Ruby the roller coaster ride is over.
We now are left with fond memories and are pleased we could spend that precious time together.
Manjula who was all no-no-no (she was the same with Billi) was won over after just a few days.
It helps me realise together with some of our other experiences (this is not the most challenging by any means) , what a hard life it can be here and how important it is to make the most of it.
so this is just the latest example of …. it’s been a bit of a weird year, more of that later.
This is a health warning (part one):
we love our guests so much we go visit them! We sometimes forget to mention that when you book to stay, so be warned. Well you are such an amazing mix of interesting, talented, friendly, open people we’d be odd not to want to return the favour!
Lucy however is not at all impressed, she’s the one that has to stay at home!
It all started with Kathy and Mark in the USA
Kathy and Mark were two of our earliest guests from the North West. Mark as a vet was volunteering for a Vets Beyond Borders (VBB) Project in Bylakuppe, where the famous Ani Samten lives. Mark was helping neuter dogs and inject them against rabies and other viruses for a couple of weeks. Fact is we met so many vetenarians we felt like we were a branch of VBB. We go to know Kathy and Mark so well from their visits they became part of the family. As of course you all are.
So now switch to 2016
Well Ol and I were on a mini-road trip from Vancouver into Oregon. Now, what do you think? It would be rude not to drop in, as we were so close, wouldn’t it? so we did and had a great time visiting them in their lovely lakeside home Kathy was an absolute wonder and Mark kindly led us on a cycle tour of their amazing city… Portland! We had such a great time and this lovely couple had set the bar very very high, could it be matched?
What a great idea, this could get to be a regular thing.
Back in the UK
Carol and Paul were the first we visited in the UK lovely city of Hereford, and the astonishing black and white village trail, check here wonderful Tudor houses and then a great trip by the River Wye, in and out of the Wales/England border, Manjula’s first real expereince of the beautiful British countryside.
Later we meandered over to see Stephen who has become an annual visitor to Mysore Bed and Breakfast. He’s also quite a storyteller (its the Irish in him) and he’s a dab hand with the bees. We now sometimes cycle together in the UK.
But that’s not all, before crashing over at Stephens we had a wonderful time through Bath and a wonderful few days with Sally on a narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon Canal (check here)
Its been astounding, how many Canadian guests we’ve had stay with is this last season. They’ve shot up the chart, passed the Australians and are neck and neck with the number of German guests we’ve had visiting this last year.
Well one of the unlikeliest groups were when…
Lise and the rest of the Sari Sisters (a cycling group from Vancouver Island) turned up (see pics above) at Mysore bed and Breakfast earlier this year with a half baked grand plan to cycle from here to Cochin. Most had brought their cycles and after transport to Mysore this was to be the very beginning. but what seemed like a plan on the back of a fag packet it might have been but they floored us with their enthusiasm, get up and go and they did it. An amazing cycling trip full of wonderful adventures. well done!
So of course, as my son Oliver lives in Vancouver and the sisters came from Vancouver Island we just had to pay them a call when I was last over there. It was fab. We met up with the husbands, had a great dinner and cycle ride together and the tip top flexible Lise was our hostess with the mostest.
Why am I telling you all this
Well, because its part of our story.
We’re often asked how we manage with the constant stream of new faces coming to stay with us. well first off its not constant and second……
Before starting Mysore Bed and Breakfast I hadn’t quite realised what an absolute joy it was going to be.
Think about it.
We live in a super city that more like a town. We can escape to the countryside in a moment. In a country and with people that are open and accepting (mostly anyway). We have a lovely house, I have a beautiful, caring, sensitive, funny wife, another companion in Lucie (who sort of behaves). We have one adventure after another (thats not just dealing with officialdom). Our business/livelihood comes from the Mysore Bed and Breakfast and MyCycle tours which we LOVE doing, so its not work.
The ingredients of this cake are therefore scrumptious and to top it all…..
The ‘icing’….. the health giving properties of connecting with wonderful people comes from you our guests, our big family, the community.
The wonderful Mysore is featured in the UK Newspaper, The Guardian. Please check here.
See if you can spot two mentions and a photograph of our very own team.
So, its probably 2010, Manjula the maid is now working for me at Moksha Marga. She’s an experenced Maid working for Indian families but what is her view of foreigners?
this quote is taken from a series of recordings made by Manjula in her own language and details an incident from before she met me and started working here….
” I lived at my brother’s place. Once my brother’s wife and I were out to purchase something from a shop, it’s a small village, it comes after Hassan, it’s called Salgami. On our way back home we saw two foreigners, a couple, they were cycling. My brother’s wife said in astonishment, “Look how these English people are cycling in our village. I think they like to see villages.” She continued, “If you work at an English person’s house you will earn well enough, they’ll offer you good food, nice and rich food. Imagine, if I was not married, I would have worked at an English person’s house. I would have eaten the same food as they did, I would be happy and jolly. “
I said, “Ayyayappa! English person’s house? A big NO to their house. They eat insects, they eat all kinds of meat, they eat cow’s meat, pig’s meat and what not! And a few also eat insects.” I said this as I had watched in television; in a few shows which showed them eating many creatures “
She said, “It’s not necessary that everyone eats. The ones who eat will eat and there are the ones who don’t eat at all. “
Later we reached home.
After 6 months, I came to Mysore. Look what happened with me? The same thing what my brother’s wife had said, I got a job at an Englishman’s house. I remember Stephen had asked for a maid for this house, a girl or an old lady. I was lucky to find his house and he was lucky to find me.
I was wondered thinking about all kinds of meat I might have to cook. Later I heard it from Vasanth that Stephen was looking for only vegetarian food to be cooked. “Thank God!” I was relieved.
I eat chicken, mutton and fish. I can cook them all but if it was any other meat I wouldn’t have touched it. I would have reluctantly said “NO” to cook any other meat.
Vasanth with his trusty auto rickshaw (not its not a tuk tuk!) provides a great ‘Fare’s Fare’ service to our guests. I met him hustling for a fare when I arrived in Mysore on my very first trip after a few days in Bangalore. He’s become a great friend and an invaluable source of help and support.
From a few months ago….
As I wait for today’s cycle guests. I’m chewing the cud with one of my Ganjam friends who is aged around 11, she’s a neighbour of Satish’s where I store my cycles. We’re wondering why in India, most girls stop cycling when they become women. There are plenty of positive women role models cycling around the world and of course on our MyCycle tours. There were two from U.K. and Australia yesterday, two from Germany and Switzerland today and some very slightly older women from the UK and Australia tomorrow. Well done to them for setting a superb example! its really noticed by the girls as we cycle around.
But it’s VERY rare (exceptions above, prove the rule!) to see Indian women cycling and when we do see it, its clearly a change in society that comes from the growing middle class. That’s of course superb but we don’t see it often enough. Why?
Yes, why do Indian girls tend to stop cycling when they become women? Another conversation might help provide some insight.
Manjula tells me that part of the attractiveness of the opposite sex, (in addition to the usual rigours of determining suitability for an arranged marriage: caste, wealth, stars, parent’s occupation and much much more), there are certain physical characteristics that are looked for. (This doesn’t of course mean it applies across India’s diverse groups!) You know the sort of thing. Small feet for women etc. Well a novel one she’s just told me relates to foot arch. Men’s arch needs to be clear and distinct, women’s feet should be flat! really? its a patriarchal minefield.
My point is, this preoccupation with attractiveness and that includes all sorts of pressure to be perceived as ‘normal’ includes the barrier, the challenge, the tradition, the clear message that cycling when a girl gets older, makes her less attractive or desirable as a poteniutal bride.
Another friend of mine, who will remain anonymous, as a young women, did some really innovative community projects, in terms of helping poor families. When it came time to look for a husband she had to ditch that work and commitment and hand over to others, to ensure she was able to find a husband!! Otherwise, she might be seen as less desirable with all that baggage!
So likewise, I reckon a woman’s desirability, eligibility, acceptability vis-a-vis marriage is enhanced if she DOESN’T cycle! What a shame! Its so the wrong way round.
Now I’m all for sensitivity to cultural difference, I pride myself on having designed and created many projects in tune and partnership with the communities they served BUT that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be critical of tradition, there are also many things that should change. Patriarchy and oppressing the ladies to conform is one of them. Here’s to the different approach for these future women!
but I do realise that there is such a long way to go…
To be fair its an intenational challenge, women around the world face barriers to taking up or maintaining cycling. A previous guest and our good friend Tiffany Lam has written on this very subject, please follow the link here
to find out more.
Strength to the girls. (and women)… keep on cycling!
Our fashion conscious guests go for colour coded clothes. Previous guests of Mysore Bed and Breakfast and MyCycle Tours can now find their photographs by following the link to our flickr albums here Just look for the month when you stayed to find the appropriate album.
Mysore is a wonderful city, feels like a Town as its human scale and hasn’t YET been irrepairably damaged by over-development. Its a great place to cycle and our many MyCycle tour guests are a testament to this. However, I worry that there is the risk that half-baked projects might do more harm than good.
We already have the first dedicated cycle lane that I’ve ever seen in India. We also have cycle lines on main roads formed by a white line. (no, its not a joke, its real. Yes, in a country where no one takes any notice of lines on roads!)
In my view they do no harm and are a great asset but on their own withough being part of wider infrastructure changes, effective measures to educate other road users and promotions for people to take up cycling, it has limited value.
Here are yesterday’s guests on our Mysore tour on the cycle lane.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been consulted on the viability of a cycle share scheme on the lines of the one first developed in Paris and subsequently copied by cities such as London. In places they’ve been a great success, in others an abject failure. This morning on my (occasional ) cycle back down Chamundi Hill I saw this…
It looks like its the installation of shelters for a cycle hire scheme. In principle that’s fantastic, the more measures to promote cycling, the merrier, but might it just be a little too soon, particualrly if its not part of a wider programme to support cycling?
My worry is that currently cycling is seen as a traditional activity of the poor villager or something for the crazy foreigners. Admittedly we’re seeing a dramatic increase in cycling as a leisure activity and the fact is we get a fair number of enquiries for cycle hire at MyCycle BUT many are the early adopters, the young people who are particualrly interested in high end cycles and going out on races! The question is will the mass, the people in the middle of the ‘market’ buy into cycling in Mysore and use the cycle hire scheme. I’m not sure that they will and it might be a bit early.
I hope I’m wrong and a good friend of ours may take on a role helping research take-up and help develp the initiatve. I worry that if it fails it will set back the progress of cycling in Mysore. You know the sort of thing… “promoting cycling? we tried that with a scheme, in 2017 but it didn’t work so no point promoting cycling again”. I reckon it will only work if its part of a wider programme to educate other road users, infrastructure development, promote safe cycling in schools and encourage young people (and especially women) to continue cycling as they get older.
I’ve developed lots of projects over the years and in my view its critical to understand the patterns of behaviours in a particular community (interest or locality) and build on that and not to blindly parachute in ideas from elsewhere, which might have worked in one place but need significant amendment and careful timing to work in another.
Many people worry about cycling in the city but are nicely surprised once they join a properly guided tour and they gain the confidence to go out on their own. Its no accident that our most popular tours by a very long way are in the low traffic routes on Srirangapatnam.
A better idea might have been cycle hire shop(s) in places where there are a network of potential cycle routes. That’s not a big capital scheme that reflects well on the powers that be so it would not be favoured. I know of such a place. It’s where our most popular cycle tour is held 😉 I’d wait to introduce automated cycle hire schemes to a time when there is more of a critical mass of cycle users, tamed traffic and more dedicated cycle lanes in the traffic intensive built up areas.
the journal, our bloglet is an experiment. Is there a story to tell? can it be told competently and ultimately, will it be engaging?
Only you and time will tell.
Our guests at the BnB are always asking for our story and often suggest we share it to a wider audience. So here is our humble attempt, to relay our story of life in India. Manjula as a ‘young’ Indian woman and me as a much much older English guy. (the age gap isn’t a big as it looks…. he said defensively!)
We intend to introduce ourselves and our life here in India, local characters and the wonderful guests, from around the world, who come to Mysore to join our Mycycle tours and stay in our Mysore Bed and Breakfast. Its already a bit of a mad mix. On the way we hope to share insights into this amazing, crazy, challenging, annoying, ‘consistently inconsistent’ beautiful place and it’s people.
Please do regularly check into meandmycycle.com
If it’s of interest do share and pass on to others.
We value your opinion.
Do you want more of the same or something different? what shall we post? insights into Manjula’s life as a poor woman in modern India? an understanding of what its like for me as an English guy adjusting to life in this ‘differently organised’ world? our personal story of coming together from different cultures and backgrounds, the fun we have and the challenges we face? a better understanding of India (is that possible?) from our own limited experience.
Do let us know.
our very best wishes,
Manjula and Stephen
Oh, and exactly on cue I hear Lucy calling from downstairs. We haven’t forgotten she is of course the third and, dearly loved, part of our family here in India.
and Lucy, of course…