Written on the Wall-Prakash Cafe

I sometimes think that the history of India was influenced not just by battles and boundary extensions but also banquets. Vintage albums of India in the making contain innumerable images of dignitaries exchanging pleasantries or negotiating the future of their people while seated at formal dining arrangements. But in those photographs dominated by star personalities were other men who often went unnoticed. They were the caterers.The ones who watched over tables discreetly and worked tirelessly in the background to make everything went smoothly. Prakash Café in Chamarajpet is filled with such images.

The lady dressed in the traditional Coorg saree is Justice Medappa's wife.

The lady dressed in the traditional Coorg saree is the well known Justice Medappa’s wife.

And as I stare at them intently, one face stands out. I have come here often, and each time, I have wondered at this gentleman with striking features in a traditional coat and black cap.  He stands smiling behind Dr. Homi J Bhabha in one and attends to K.Changalaraya Reddy, the first Chief Minister of Mysore State (post- Independence) in another.  He reappears behind Lal Bahadur Shastri, Sardar Patel and Diwan Bahadur Sir Arcot Ramaswami Mudaliar, one of the makers of the Indian Constitution. My eye stops at a photograph of him smiling while a little boy receives a gift from the Maharaja of Mysore, Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar.

Chandrika Thyagaraja at Prakash Cafe

Chandrika Thyagaraj at Prakash Cafe.Image courtesy: Nirlek Dhulla@dejaview.in

“The little boy is my youngest uncle” says Chandrika Thyagaraj, third generation management and Director- Catering at Prakash Café. “We have been catering for government banquets, including Raj Bhavan and small, private occasions since the 1940’s and still do. My grandfather would take his sons along to show them how things were done. Everything was personally transported in our vans, including the white table cloths, crockery, silver tableware and little bowls of special chocolates, cookies and cigars for the guests. He paid attention to every detail.”

The restaurant is packed with not just photographs, but memories. Almost five centuries after the Kempegowda dynasty moved from Bengaluru to Magadi, a young man named KL Chandrashekharaiah arrived in Bengaluru from his village Kempsagara near Magadi in search of new opportunities. While working with his uncle, BT Ramaiah, he decided to venture into the hotel business. It was a bold deviation from their traditional occupation as agriculturists.

A haven of continuity.

Everything here has been around for a while.Even people. Image courtesy: Nirlek Dhulla@dejaview.in

The eatery he set up in 1943 was within the precincts of his home in Chamarajpet. Bengaluru’s first modern extension planned in a grid design was built in 1892 and named after Chamarajendra Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore. In the vicinity were illustrious neighbours; the Kannada Sahitya Parishat (1915), Chamarajendra Sanskrit College, Fort High School, the first Ramakrishna Mission (1904), Minto Eye Hospital (1913), Victoria Hospital and Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace. There were also the homes of many famous Kannada litterateurs and several heritage temples, churches and cultural institutions in this traditional South Bengaluru locality. Chandrika vividly remembers her grandparents home and says the Chamarajpet of her childhood was a busy suburb filled with lorries. “We used to call it Lorrypete!”

The Dosa needs no introduction.

The Dosa needs no introduction.

“There were not too many restaurant options here in the 1940’s” she says and adds that Prakash Café’s restaurant and lodge initially catered to people in the Mandi (market) right opposite (before it shifted to Yeshwanthpur) and the trading and transportation companies that gradually emerged in Chamarajpet. Word got around. Success followed. He eventually bought the property and introduced the private catering business with its much sought after authentic Gowda `Beegara Oota.’ This traditional non-vegetarian meal is usually served only to close friends and family a few days after the formal Vokkaliga wedding (consider yourself blessed if you ever get invited to one).  The preparations were initially supervised in his wife, Smt. Sharadamma’s traditional kitchen next door. “She was a tough lady” says Chandrika with a smile, “and she supported him completely.”

Old world interiors in a strange new world.

Old world interiors in a strange new world.Image courtesy: Nirlek Dhulla@dejaview.in

Sri KL Chandrashekharaiah’s legacy was handed down to his joint family of five daughters and four sons as Directors. The old world restaurant is filled with a vintage charm that has stayed as consistent as its offering. Stepping in here is like stepping back in time. For many residents in the area, the pure vegetarian restaurant with its famous dosas, uppittu and coffee breakfast and its founder are both iconic South Bengaluru institutions. It’s also where you find a great unlimited lunch meal for an unheard of price, even today.  “This is Bengaluru Oota. It is the food we eat here in this city” says Chandrika while her cousin, Anand Subramanya oversees operations from behind the counter.

Uppittu, Khara Bhaat, Upama...call it by any other name, tastes as wonderful,

Uppittu, Khara Bhaat, Upma…call it by any other name, tastes as wonderful,

This time round too, I look at the images on the wall.I almost mistake an extremely young Ramakrishna Hegde, the charismatic former Chief Minister of Karnataka (1983-1988) for the dashing actor Dilip Kumar. So many familiar faces here are now long gone. I find myself wondering what they might have spoken about just before the shutter clicked. What might have happened just after? Photographs are like that, aren’t they? They keep us guessing for ever about a fleeting moment in time.

Dinner with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Dinner with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Sri KL Chandrashekharaiah’s son, Sri KC Subramanya sits down slowly to share his memories with me. I ask him about his impressions of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first Prime Minister who can be seen seated in deep discussion at a table. “He seemed modest and simple” he says quietly, looking at the picture on a wall where landmark moments and historical figures from Karnataka’s history remain carefully preserved in a black and white world.

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Find it at: 1st Main Road, Chamarajapet, Bengaluru 560018. + 91 80 2661 3378. Prakash Cafe.Closed on Saturdays.

Try: The famous dosa breakfast and don’t leave without a sip of filter coffee. The `Beegaru Oota’ is available only on order for private occasions.

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This story is a part of our project, `Bengaluru-A Remembered City’ that seeks to map the city through the narratives of its people.It was originally published in the Bangalore Mirror on October 22nd, 2015. Read it here.

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for this lovely piece. This place was part of my childhood. With working parents, evening ‘tiffin’ sometimes got bought outside. We used to walk up to Prakash Cafe for masala dosa ‘parcel’ and back. This was in the 80s. It was also a minor landmark. We used to live in Chamarajpet, one block before the police station (next door to where the current City Central Library stands).

    1. Thank you, that’s what it sounded like in the interview audio recording.Change noted and executed.

      1. Nanda Dhananjaya · ·

        Thanks!

  2. Nanda Dhananjaya · · Reply

    Correction: * While working with his uncle, B.T. Ramaiah not V.T. Ramaiah!

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