The lost literary DNA

Last month I used a wedding invitation as an excuse to visit Mysore. A big incentive was to take a look at Lakshmipuram, the place where our ancestral home existed till a few years back. Circa 1915. Lakshmipuram was an aristocratic residential locality in Mysore, primarily for the relatives of the Wadiyars. A few plots were released for other prominent citizens. My grandfather, an Amildar bought a large corner site on 1st Main Road with a loan from the government.

Unfortunately, he passed away before the bungalow could be completed and my grandmother oversaw the construction after that. My father was the only son but he was just an infant at that time.

It was tough for my grandmother over the next few years as her only source of income was from agricultural land. She could not afford to live in the bungalow so she and my father moved in to a small house a couple of miles away and rented out the huge family home for a monthly rental of Rs 30(yes!).

When my father was grown up enough to understand situations she would bring him frequently to Lakshmipuram and point out his legacy and tell him that her wish was that one day he should occupy that house.

However, this story is about one of the tenants who lived in that house. In the early thirties an Iyer family moved in for a rental of Rs 40 per month. It was a rather large family and their source of income was limited. The main bread winner was a young man who had aspirations to be a writer. They struggled to pay the rent month after month. The tenant later on became world famous as an author. Yes, R K Narayan. The bungalow sat on a 15,000 sq ft plot.

However, in his autobiography, “My Days” RKN describes the place as: “We had to move on to a cheaper place in Laxmipuram (sic)...The house was smaller, less roomy…” Perceptions sure vary!

The house had a small, narrow room without windows called the strong room. Presumably that is where the family jewels would be kept. For reasons unknown R K Laxman used that as his bedroom. RKN and his elder brother occupied one of the front-facing hexagonal bedrooms.

The author describes this room thus: “Our room had a broad wooden staircase which led nowhere.” RKN sat with his typewriter on the top landing and typed his first play, Prince Yazid. This was more or less the beginning of his writing career. My father later sold the staircase for a good price as it was made from Burma teak. Decades later this same room was habitat for my wife and me.

I would love to think that some of RKN’s literary DNA was left behind in that room because straight from an engineering education I moved to a career in communications. While he wrote money-spinning novels, I do occasional middles!

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