The palaces of Mysore are splendid and its weather several degrees cooler. But it’s the civility of its people that is utterly charming and endearing. 

Romantic, rainwashed and radically different from their nearest urban counterparts, Mysoreans are to the manner born*. A recent visit brought this realization home anew.

The city of palaces is just 120 km away from Bangalore but its people are so far removed in their disposition, one wonders whether we can truly be in the same state, speaking the same language and sharing a common heritage.

Amba Vilas Palace, Mysore
Driving through the city was such joy; not only are the roads wide and well-maintained, there’s hardly any traffic. Here in Bangalore, my office is less than a ten-minute walk from home. I often drive my car to work as I need to go out for meetings – the drive to work takes longer, there are needless bottlenecks, meaningless traffic restrictions and like every driver, I feel all others are boors who should not be given licenses. Did I mention that there are so many potholes that one feels like a frog, leaping around them?

We traversed Mysore from one end to other; we did not bother to use the GPS to find our way. How could we give up an opportunity to converse with a local? Whoever we asked for directions – cops, auto drivers (my favourites always for such help), other motorists, would pause, smile and then explain at great length. Most of the directions involved going right at the next big circle until a ‘deadened’ (not a dead-end) which amused us thoroughly.

The gentle cloak of civility soothed our jangled big city nerves, and as the day wore on, so beguiled were we by the genuine human regard of people we met that we had to jolt ourselves into remembering that we were not in a time warp.

In many ways, it is a closed society. You do need to know the right people who will connect you to their friends. But once they realise you are well-meaning, not haughty and are not going to waste their time, Mysoreans have all the time in the world to discuss the value of your proposition and share their insights.

They are modest about their intelligence and equally so about their wealth. They flaunt neither but if your antennae are up, you can sense both quite soon.

The city is not immune to change, but it happens so slowly it seems almost invisible. Without being intransigent about it, Mysoreans have held on to a way of life and their culture – by which I mean not just the arts and their treasure trove of artefacts, but a civility in daily conduct. They soon might be getting a new resident – it seems the ideal place to shift.

(*For those who wonder at my usage of ‘ to the manner born’ instead of ‘to the manor born’, I would like to point them to The original phrase “to the manner born” was coined by William Shakespeare in Hamlet, Act I, Scene iv. In the mid-19th century the variant “to the manor born,” came to be used, meaning “born into, or naturally suited to, upper-class life”. It substituted “manor” (the house on an estate; a mansion) as a symbol of an aristocratic lifestyle for “manner” meaning simply “customs or habits.” I use the idiom in the Shakespearean sense.)

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

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