Good old days

Good old days

Good old days

Gopi Circle
M Bhaktavatsala
2015, pp 283

M Bhaktavatsala is known for his connections to the old, vintage Bengaluru and many towns in Old Mysore State (hale Mysuru), worlds that have disappeared into the mists of time. He also has deep ties with cinema. A colourful raconteur, he has been talking and writing about the places he grew up in — Hosapete, Davanagere, Shivamogga, Chitradurga — for decades now, including in the columns of this very newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Gopi Circle, a book that contains several such memorable pieces, has just been published.
Gopi Circle, as Bhaktavatsala himself points out in his foreword, is an intersection of roads in the Shivamogga of his childhood, a place that does not exist today. Gopi Building, the edifice that gave its name to the Circle, says Bhaktavatsala, had an eatery in the front and a call-girl racket at the back, but “…disappeared when Gandhi visited the small town and planted a tree on the spot.” The book rakes up images of many people and places and things that just don’t exist anymore.

There are 50 articles in this collection. They range from the childhood days he spent at his grand uncle’s huge mansion in Hosapete, to the Elgin ‘Talkies’ (a cinema theatre that opened in 1896) completing a century of showing films, to his travels across the world, to P G Wodehouse and the angst-free world he created in his books. He writes about Kuvempu, and Shivaram Karanth, (who was his principal at Maharaja’s College in Mysuru). The ubiquitous Ambassador car (Marks I to IV) which was, until the 1980s, the “…People’s Car, the Politician’s Car, India’s Rolls Royce…all rolled into one solid yet shaky entity…” The world-famous public sector company HMT, where Bhaktavatsala worked as a young man. His wide travels across the globe, to the last time he saw Sir M Visvesvaraya alive… it is a long list of nostalgia, fun and wistfulness. 

In one particular story about tigers, the article swings from an era when that grand animal was shot down indiscriminately, to the present, where they are protected in sanctuaries. When a tiger that was shot down was being brought into a small town near Jog, in a huge procession, the tawny beast placed on a bullock cart for all to see, there was an air of celebration. He talks about how in “…those days there was no voice that spoilt the fun by taking up the side of the animal...” By the time the tale ends, many decades later, to another magnificent tiger by a highway between Hyderabad and Bengaluru, one realises the deep admiration he has for this big cat. He points out here that “…man unfortunately proliferated at a pace helped by his cunning which left the animals at a disadvantage… whenever, however feebly, man tries to correct the balance, the animal so readily relaxes into the natural habitat of mother earth. Man is yet to learn to do that. On balance, it appears that the animal is the nobler of the two…”

This is the sort of tone to the many varied topics that are included here. It reflects an era of learning and literature to which earlier generations were exposed. Those were the days when many stalwarts like Shivaram Karanth not only wrote books, but were also principals and teachers at colleges, overseeing the education of hundreds of students — education in the real sense of the term, and not what it has come to mean today.

This collection should not only give you many days of absorbing reading, but perhaps also take you back to your own days of growing up — as it did for me.