Home and Heart

The vintage Ansonia clock in MR Narendra’s Basavanagudi home reminds me that time and tide wait for none. But inside these compound walls, time stands still. The house is preserved as carefully as it was built and the clock, made by the Ansonia Clock Company in 1871, is still ticking.  “It was built entirely out of mortar and is still in its original form” he says of the building that immediately catches your eye from the street. It was one of just three that existed here over a hundred years ago.

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MR Narendra’s heritage home is as old as Basavanagudi, an extension that was planned in the late 1800’s following the Bangalore Plague of 1898. Government servants were allotted plots here and then advanced a year’s pay to build houses. His home was built by his distinguished grandfather, Sir MN Krishna Rao, Acting Diwan of Mysore on a 19,500 sq.ft plot in 1907. He tells me that back then, houses were named after illustrious ancestors, deities or even a tree that distinguished it from the others in the area.The spacious sites were separated by dense woods and large gardens where children played among flowering trees, birds and butterflies. Basavanagudi as we know it was still a century away.

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The Pomelo, a large sweet-tangy citrus fruit that grew in Bengaluru gardens.

The single storied building initially accommodated about thirty five family members who lived under its balustraded Madras Terrace roof. Its traditional layout allocated ample space for living and utility areas with 18’ ceilings and smooth red-oxide floors, open Cudappa tiled courtyards and a garden where the `pomelo’ still grows in profusion.  No effort was spared to make it special. When the first floor was added in 1927, hexagonal red tiles from Austria were laid across it and a rosewood staircase was made to connect both levels. The inauguration was presided over by Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati, the Shankaracharya from the Sringeri Mutt. I walk from room to room and marvel at the proportions, detailing and traditional building elements that give it so much soul and character.

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The imposing front verandah and entrance with columns.

Illustrious visitors too arrived at its door. They included the Yuvaraja of Mysore, Sir Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wadiyar (who visited in 1935 to see Sir Krishna Rao’s All-Wave 15 valve Scott Radio, one of only three in India) and Diwan Sir Mirza Ismail, who was both his predecessor and successor. The house had other attractions; a 78 rpm playing HMV gramophone built atop an Art Deco cabinet, a Model T Ford and a seven- seater Italian Fiat that replaced his horse drawn Victoria carriage. MR Narendra shows me a gleaming 1935 pre-war Standard automobile sitting quietly in the garage. “My grandfather’s driver was Bhaktavatsala Naidu” he says. “In those days, petrol was sold at 12-14 annas a gallon. The petrol bunk here was owned by an Iyengar gentleman who would siphon petrol into two large measuring glass jars (before the meter arrived) and then pour it into the tank.” The car is in mint condition but seems incongruous on new Bengaluru’s roads that are crowded with frantic commuters. It belongs to a gracious period in the city’s history that is now long gone.

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While the family originally hailed from Baragehalli village in Tumkur district where they still maintain a temple, Sir Krishna Rao (1877-1958) was born to Sri.Nanjundaiah and Smt. Lakshmidevamma in Mysore and had three brothers and two sisters. He was educated at Madras Christian College where he completed his B.A before passing the Mysore Civil Services examination. He was a widely read man of high integrity, a scholar and skilled accountant who was appointed Financial Probationer in 1897 and rose to Financial Secretary and then First Member of Council.

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In 1941, he was appointed Acting Diwan for Sir Mirza Ismail who was on a yearlong visit to London for the Round Table Conference.  During this period, he was instrumental in relieving Mysore from the financial burdens of WWI, allocating funds for Krishnarajasagar Dam, the Irwin Canal project and several other government undertakings. As Chairman of the Bhadravathi Iron Works, he also supervised the company’s recovery from a financial crisis.  He was awarded the Rajakaryapraskta title in 1922 and was knighted in 1934. The Krishna Rao Road and park next door are named after him.

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The family continued to make significant contributions in public spheres. Sir Krishna Rao’s brother Prof. M Hiriyanna was the noted Sanskrit scholar and foremost writer on Indian philosophy at the University of Mysore. His nephew and son-in-law, Nittoor Srinivasa Rao, a staunch Gandhian, was Chief Justice of the High Court of Mysore and the first chief of the Central Vigilance Commission of India. Prof. M Ramaswamy (MR Narendra’s father) was a reputed lawyer and Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India. He joined Delhi University in 1960 as Professor of Constitutional Law and retired as Dean in 1965. He wrote extensively  on the subject of constitutional frameworks and his ‘ The Law of the Indian Constitution’ on the Government of India Act, 1935 remains a definitive work on the subject. He was the eldest son born to Sir Krishna Rao and his wife Smt.Gundamma, daughter of Sri Gundappa, the Amaldar of Closepet.

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MR Narendra has diligently documented the family and house history for future generations. The house too is lovingly preserved. Photos, memories and anecdotes have been carefully compiled into booklets so their cultural inheritance will not be forgotten. He remembers the Diwan as an involved, dedicated grandfather who taught them Mathematics and Sanskrit for an hour early in the morning, every day and took them for long drives to the mango tree gardens that once grew around Bugle Rock nearby. ” He was disciplined, principled, compassionate and unfailingly honest” he says.

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Generations have lived in this family home since then. Every room has a story to tell. Marriages have been performed here and children have been born. “How much money do we really need?” he asks softly when we discuss other heritages structures across the city getting knocked down daily. “The past is irreplaceable. Family homes contain legacies and a wealth of memories no money can buy.”

His comment is all the more relevant in a Bengaluru that seems to be determinedly eliminating all physical markers of its past. What we will be left with someday are the newly emerged faceless buildings and identity-less streetscapes that mark this `modern’ city. We might choose to knock down our homes and live in these buildings for convenience, but we will never be able to proudly say ” this is our family apartment.” It just doesn’t sound or feel right, does it?

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Find it: Near MN Krishna Rao Park, Basavanagudi.

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The memories and information in this story are excerpts from `A remembered city’, my project that seeks to map Bangalore through the personal narratives of its people.  This story was originally published in the Bangalore Mirror, January 5th, 2015. Image courtesy: Aliyeh Rizvi

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9 comments

  1. Timeless as the building that housed the Rao’s.
    This article.
    I cannot wait for your book.

    1. Thanks Chris! I know old houses are difficult to maintain, but when you love something, it never seems like an effort to look after it.Mr.MR Narendra’s dedication to his family home and his pride in is commendable at a time when all we seem to want as Bengalureans is money in the bank.We are selling our legacies for it.

  2. N J RAVI CHANDER · · Reply

    Could we have all your articles in the form of a book. That would be the best gift to Bengalureans.

  3. Trying to work on the afore mentioned book despite all physical and financial odds, Mr.Ravi Chander. 🙂

  4. Manjunath TR · · Reply

    excellent reading, timeless memories well etched today, standing tall in the sands of time. Great.,

  5. adithi · · Reply

    Been reading ur blogs for a while now.in addition to the amount of research gone into each piece,your emotions and narrative makes you visit these places and relive them.Commendable Job. Many many congratulations and may your tribe increase

    1. Thanks so much, Adithi.Thank you for reading!

  6. adithi · · Reply

    Hey .. is this the house adjacent to basava ambara and rogue elephant ?

    1. Its actually at the corner on the other side near the IIWC.

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