Sunday, 6 March 2011

4. Treading in Grandfather’s Footsteps

Gandhi Bazaar, Bangalore

The Kumar's, but not of Number 42

Shatabdi Express arrives in Bangalore

Lunch on the Shatabdi Express

Mysore sign

Elephant in Mysore Palace Grounds

A mix of traffic in Mysore

Mysore Palace

Devaraja Market, Mysore

The Maharini's School, Mysore

Slicing coconuts to drink

Journalist Eswar Singh and his mum

Writing my blog in Mysore
I’ve been astonished by just how much English is spoken in India. But there are so many dialects and people move about so much, that English is the common denominator.
But, even then, there can be confusion. Mr. Shetty’s daughter, who works for Yahoo, looks very confused when I tease her about ‘sleeping very fast’. Unfortunately, the word fast here means not to eat. What she had earlier said was that, in India, you had to ‘sleep on high speed’, meaning that your ceiling fan had to be turned up high.
She’s not joking. It’s not even summer yet, but the midday sun is blisteringly hot and I have quickly discovered that early morning and evening are the best times to be out and about.
The sights and sounds attack your senses from all directions. The racket makes noisy Spain seem the most tranquil place on earth. It really is a photographer’s dream. Some things, it appears, have gone unchanged for hundreds of years. I am surprised just how common it is to see folk with no shoes on their feet.
In the Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore, I see so many extraordinary things that I have to get Yeshvanth and his family to tell me what they are.
His wife, Meera, and daughter Kanusha join us for a farewell meal at my hotel. Very touchingly, they give me a lovely little Indian pot, which I will treasure. We finish the evening with ice-creams in a local Lassi Bar.
I am woken up by orders being barked out over loudspeakers at Florence Public school, opposite the O.Tel. It’s Saturday morning and the youngsters are all being given parade training. ‘Right about turn’, ‘into line, left turn,’ the man orders. From what I could tell, nobody is taking it very seriously.
My taxi to the station is late and, when it arrives, the driver wants more than three times the normal fare. He refuses to give me my bag back, but I persist. Yeshvanth later confirms my suspicion that the receptionist at the hotel has agreed a price with the driver, taking his nice cut as part of the deal. It’s a pity. O.Tel has looked after me very well.
But backhanders are totally part of life in India and I don’t think I’ve been in a country where officials are quick to ask or hint. Beggars are also rife, and best avoided with a firm ‘no’. But I couldn’t ignore the almost blind guy at the traffic lights who was crawling around on the stumps of his legs. Truly horrid to see.
The Shatabdi Express to Mysore is excellent. The two-hour trip cost about £10 and that for a First Class seat in an air conditioned carriage. They served up a very acceptable meal and gave each passenger a litre bottle of water.
Yeshvanth has kindly fixed up for me to stay in a Guest House, belonging to the Indian Institute of Engineers. What it lacks in western comforts, it makes up for by having ESPN with all the Sunday Premiership games on live.
I have a little recce of Mysore Palace, which is so opulent it makes Buckingham Palace look like social housing. Seeing its gold dome and knowing that my grandfather was here almost exactly 100 years ago gives me a really odd feeling.
I spend the evening with Anglo-Indian Mark Young, who kindly invites me to dinner. We are joined for a while by Mike van Ingen whose grandfather was friendly with my own granddad. The van Ingens ran a very famous taxidermy business in Mysore, which only closed in 1999. I am sure that the moth eaten skin we had in our lounge for many years would have been cured by the van Ingens. Sadly, there are no company records existing prior to 1913.
My grandfather, according to press cuttings of the period, was an accomplished hunter. But I wonder if even he would have been staggered to know that the van Ingen business dealt with 53,523 animals in their century of trading.

Sunday I try to keep a little bit different, tricky in a country that seems to be full on for every minute of the day, never mind every day of the week. I have a lot of phone calls to make, resulting from the amazing amount of press coverage I have had.
But it is beginning to look like the talented artist M. A. Azeez, which we have always believed to have been a name used by my grandfather, is a totally different person. One email in particular tells me that Musa Abdul Azeez was an Indian, who later moved to Afghanistan. He was also a talented calligrapher whose work was admired by the King of Afghanistan.
The suspicion here in Mysore is that Azeez was probably commissioned by my grandfather, hence the works that are here in various Royal Palaces and also in my mother’s lounge! Despite the pages and pages of news coverage, there is no sign of any Indian cousins.
I repair to the Royal Orchid Metropole for a cup of tea and a cool down and am delighted to discover that it's probably somewhere my grandfather would have visited. It was the guest house built by the Wadiyars for foreign visitors. The delightful Shabeena, the duty manager, gives me a real grilling about my grandfather's work. she should really be a journalist.
Eswar Singh, a local journalist, picks me up on his motorbike and takes me to lunch at his house. On the way, we stop to have a cooling drink from a coconut, sliced open by a lady yielding a vicious-looking machete like knife. Outside the house, we remove our shoes and wash our feet on a handily placed tap.
He lives there with his mum, two sisters, their husbands and various other family members, nine in total. I eat delicious lemon rice which his mum, who doesn’t speak any English, is surprised that I, a Westerner, can manage. She tells him in Hindi that she thought we only ate sandwiches!
Eswar drops me off at a net café to catch up on photographs and my blog. I reveal that it’s the first time in my life that I have ever travelled pillion. In this traffic it is a thrill-ride of a lifetime.
Just don’t tell mother.