Tuesday, September 22, 2009

VINTAGE DASARA EXHIBITION

Let me share some of my most unforgettable memories of the Dasara Exhibition at Mysore during my childhood.
Whenever we used to fare badly in the annual exams, friends teased us "Come September" (a popular 1961 Hollywood movie). Meaning: failed candidates who took exams in September. Nobody liked to be at the receiving end of that. But September (sometimes early October) was a much-awaited month because it signaled the arrival of the magnificent Dasara. For us schoolboys, that meant a short vacation, a time to switch our modes to "festive" to be part of the Dasara grandeur, a time to plan a few visits to the famous Dasara exhibition and it was also the season for playing tops. It was a period when Mysore looked at its traditional and colourful best; Mysoreans, even better! The atmosphere was electric and the climate itself, salubrious.

"September" smoothly takes my memory vividly down the '1960s and early 1970s' lane. Though witnessing the grand Dasara procession (the adjective always went with that) was high priority, it was the Dasara exhibition that sustained the spirit for a couple of more months.

The Dasara Exhibition was first started under the royal patronage in the early twenties or thereabouts, at where the Fire Brigade in Saraswathipuram is housed, with an intention to promote art and culture in the city which was very rich and renown in these circles. After some years, it was shifted to the spacious building belonging to the Mysore Medical College (next to the Railway Offices), as its popularity rose by leaps and bounds. Those who have visited this venue (early 1930s to early 1970s - I was fortunate to have done so from the early 60s) will never forget that very special, addictive charm. It was an unforgettable spectacle.

The gateway and the exterior were by no means gaudy or too showy. But inside, it was Mysore's "Disneyland"! On entry, the visitors were greeted by the captivating sight of the majestic, cascading waterfall at some distance. The beauty of the venue itself fortified the entertainment value of the occasion.

The exhibition was the best chosen alternative for entertainment and relaxation, besides the cinema (or the Circus that went on opposite the Palace) for the 'Dasara guests', who almost as a rule and a tradition, stayed for many days (whether the hosts liked or not). Our group consisting of guests, elders and children would reach there by bus or by walk well before sun-down. The 'Tonga' was always another option.

The starting point, so to say, was from the govt. department stalls. Those blinking neon English letters in pleasing colours fascinated us. Further in, the "Ladies Section" was of particular interest because my grandmother displayed her unique handicrafts there. Ever since 1931, she had been doing so and seldom did her talents went unrewarded. The neatly filled up certificates (dating back to 1931), stands testimony to the sincerity and the enthusiasm of the organizers.


From Crafts in the family

(click on link to view full album)

Her crafts included the replica of the Clock Tower (1940s), a house named 'Gandhi Kuteer' (1950s), both made by tying Paddy grains together; pictures depicting the 'ganduberunda' (mythological bird) and a floral design using rice grains (made in 1935 in the same way) and some other smaller crafts. They were really her chef-de'aeuvre. She used to proudly display them even in later years just for the sake of it. These unique crafts are still treasured at home. Her culinary skills never failed to win prizes at the cooking section too. Muchore, Badami/halkova Obbattu were her specialties that pleased many a palate.

My mother too used to chip in with her talents and used to follow suit in the rangoli and crafts sections. One rangoli art, a beautiful portrait of His Highness Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar drawn by someone still shows up in my mind's eye. It was in one of the spacious halls upstairs.

The Exhibition provided a beautifully balanced blend of shopping, entertainment, information and relaxation. The loud speakers (loud is a harsh word here!) carried pleasing music or the programmes that went on the stage. Intermittent announcements of missing children used to catch our attention - I think it was the voice of our local Amin Sayani - "Mike Chandru" who probably was beginning to make his career and an impression. During daytime, he would roam the roads in an auto rickshaw announcing that day's programme and the way we ran after it to collect the pamphlets was real fun.

In those days and beyond, Hygiene was an important subject in schools. No wonder, cleanliness was Mysore's trademark culture, which seems to have percolated down the clogged drains now. The exhibition premises was as clean as one can imagine in those plastic-free days. The sincere sweepers were always on the prowl, armed with special nail-ended sticks to haul up rubbish and deposit in their shoulder bags without bending down.

Cheap and simple toys were invariably bought. The descending plastic monkey (made using a cycle spoke and a spring that held the monkey), the water balloon (barely lasted our arrival back home) and hydrogen balloons (occasionally sold) are some of them. Who can forget the man making faces and selling moustaches and beards? The little tik-tok-sound-making metallic toy was sold for ten paise. Another expensive toy was a microscope for which I pestered my grandfather to buy for fifteen rupees. Embossing on plastic key-holder-rings had just made its arrival. My aunt got one made for me with my name on it. The last three are my cherished mementoes of that Dasara dreamland. But the Bison Brand books from Bhadravati Paper Mills were a must.


An unforgettable incident comes to mind. Three of us high-school friends from the neighbourhood decided to visit the exhibition - our first trip sans elders. My grandfather was to pick us back at around 9 p.m. We enjoyed our time and it was time to leave. As we came out, the clouds came down! It was a very heavy thunderstorm. Panicky, we ran and settled in one of the bus-shelters nearby. Power failed, darkness filled. Still there was no sign of my grandfather. We were all afraid. Then suddenly, in one of the many flashes of lightning, I could recognize him under the umbrella manouvering the soggy path in front of us. As if saved from a death-trap, I called him out. We heaved a big sigh of relief and returned home in one of the very few autorickshaws that plied our roads. It was still raining when Mysore woke up the next day. The following day's paper carried a headline: "14-hour continuous rain in Mysore".

The charm of the festival and the exhibition in particular touched everyone's hearts, deeply. The government was honest and 'political interference' was unknown. It was all royal. And pristine. The various committees chaired respected personalities. Corruption neither had scope nor acceptance! There was no harsh music to hit the ear-drums nor was there any gobi-manchurian to tickle the taste buds. No one screamed for Ice-cream either! Yet, people enjoyed the fun - fun in its purest form. There was no hullabaloo!

There were only an elite few who owned cars and fewer still, scooters. Even great personalities used the humble bicycle. As such, there was no need for a 'parking area' in the exhibition. People leisurely strolling on the wide footpaths (now narrowed by asphalted roads and cut-down avenue trees) to and from the Exhibition was a common sight. It was rare to see anyone in a hurry-scurry, so typical of (erstwhile) Mysore. Peace and tranquility was maintained even during such an important festival! Pomp was felt, not seen!

The sad news about the exhibition's shifting to Doddakere Maidan broke many a Mysorean heart around 1975. The privy purse had just been abolished by the government and His Highness had passed away. They were all 'great blows' to the great Dasara tradition itself, which probably paved the way to secularism, a horrible pest which has eaten away all the grandeur. Dasara WAS a feast of the people, by the people, for the people. Not for nothing they were called the 'golden good old days'! Nobody and nothing can bring back the true and original (lost) glory of the bygone Septembers. But the sublimity of the vintage Dasara and the Exhibition reside permanently in memories.

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3 comments:

JANAKI NAIR said...

I am doing some research on Mysore Dasara Exhibition from 1906-1956. I would like to consult online or in Mysore such materials as:
photographs, newclippings, memoirs in English or Kannada, maps of exhibition grounds, copies of certificates, and Mysore Dasara handbooks. Please let me know if there are such collections which can be used online, or in private collections elsewhere.

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Anil P said...

Enjoyed reading your Dasara recollections. And more so of the crafted exhibits your grand-mother put up.

Are there pictures of your grandmother's creations that you could share on the blog so folks like me could picture your descriptions more vividly?