A legend's lair

The news of a house being demolished in Mysore made sad reading. All the more sad when you think what it meant to its creator. Here was a writer who lived and breathed the quintessential Mysore life — its lanes and bylanes where he spent the greater part of his life, etching characters whom he immortalised in his books.

This was the house where he sat in idle contemplation and wrote about his favourite haunts — the marketplace where he discovered a wealth of material for his books; the Kukkarahalli kere (Sarayu) where little Swamy discussed the world’s problems with his friends; the townhall where orators made thundering speeches; the printing press where a one-in-a-million printer came to life; the district court in whose compound a financial expert was born...His favourite pastime was to walk around the market place, dressed in a crumpled dhoti and faded old coat, his umbrella tucked under his arm. The only luxury he allowed himself in those hard days was an areca nut in his coat pocket. Sometimes, when he could afford it, a couple of annas worth coffee and tiffin. In this life of penury he dreamt up all his lovable characters whom he met in shops, on the pyols of old houses and the bylanes of this charming city.

Whenever I visited Chennai, my first destination was Soundarya apartments in Eldams Road. I would always find him seated in an easy chair in the small balcony, reading.
A steel walking stick would be within hand’s reach. “What have you brought me today?” he would ask. When I replied “Your own books for you to autograph!” he would smile and take out a pen from his shirt pocket. Then, he would talk. And, the subject invariably turned to his dear Mysore, his old school and his college days. One day, he suddenly asked: “Would you like to see my room? Come this way.” It was a bedroom-cum-study and sparsely furnished. A table and chair, a bed and lots of photographs on the wall. The table was crowded with papers and unopened letters. “I never read them,” he laughed. He then opened a drawer and pulled out a large sketch of a house.

“I built this,” he said. “It was a beautiful house in Yadavagiri extension. Look at those windows. This one here was my study. What a nice room it was, full of books...” “Are you planning to go back?” I asked. “I want to” came the wistful reply. “If possible...I can’t move now without disturbing others.”

I cannot recollect that conversation even today without a lump in my throat. I am happy that the demolition of that house has been stopped and the state government has promised to treat it as a heritage building and use it as a memorial for the writer. I sincerely hope that it won’t turn out to be an empty promise.    

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