Monday, February 17, 2020

Agha Aly Asker by Syeda Mirza

Agha Aly Asker

-The Persian who contributed significantly to

 the development of Bangalore in mid 19th century 

by Syeda Mirza

  Finding a book on Bangalore and its people is a gratifying experience by itself. After a lot of research, visits to the libraries & bookstores and talks with fellow city dwellers if you are lucky you may find one, if luckier you may find an author signed copy like I did. Thank you Rehana Mohammed Shakir's Pet Therapy & Surrogate Pet Programme for guiding me to Champaca a well curated book café which left the Bangalore reader in me impressed.

India has always been a melting pot of civilization. If one were to ask for a quintessential example for this statement, our city of Bangalore is the best to cite. A side lane on Cunningham Road connecting to the Miller’s Road bears the name of a Bangalorean by choice and love for his karmabhumi, Agha Aly Asker the founding father of the Persian legacy in the city. His contribution to the city of Bangalore and Mysore State during that period is incredible and forms an important part of our city’s rich legacy.

As a 16-year-old boy of Turkic origin, Agha Aly Asker left is hometown of Shiraz in Persia and came to Bangalore in 1824 as a horse trader and became more. The book initially speaks of the culture and the landscapes of his hometown. Shiraz is beautifully described as a land of mystics, poets and gardens; rightfully called ‘The City of Roses And Nightingales’. With chai khaneks and bazars, horse races and gymkhanas, carpets and chandeliers, architectures and societal structures, delicacies and cuisines, manners and upbringing, religion and culture; the author has not left one detail untouched. One is left mesmerized reading the first few chapters.

However, as they say destiny is what you make it, Agha Aly Asker had a vision for his future in the then land of Hind and Ingleesi. His courage to pursue, the adventures to reach the subcontinent through the deserts and the seas is described through and through, the reader gets drifted to those times. Along with being an equine connoisseur and contributing to the horse racing map of the city Agha Aly Asker has built many iconic colonial bungalows at the request of Sir Mark Cubbon who had a paternal affection for this young immigrant who came to the city crossing Bushehr, Mangalore, Puttur, Hasan, Adichunchanagiri only because of his love for horses.

Now from horses to houses, the list of houses built and owned by Agha Aly Asker is mind boggling, from Raj Bhavan to Balabrooie. He also played an important role in the Mysore State’s persistence of securing the Wodeyar gadi for Krishnaraja Wadeyar III adopted son Chamaraja, preventing the British plan of annexing Mysore. The list of presents that reached Queen Victoria speaks of the richness of Mysore State and only a keen observer who had a taste for such finesse could come up with such precious tokens to get things going. Such incidents reflect his relentless love for his adopted country despite his trades with the British. His sense of justness to the locals and natives deserves great respect and admiration.

The author also writes about his descendants and the other stalwarts associated with him like Sir Mark Cubbon, Sir Mirza Ismail, the Wodeyars and his comradeship with them. His kindness, honour, justice and love towards the family and friends that he made here in Bangalore is captured in its truest essence in the book with multiple references and documents. The words in this book carry the power and fragrance of his favourite pink rose ‘Gul-e-Mohammadi’ and that is the beauty of his story, a legacy that deserves all the love he has left behind for this world.

Fading histories, fading cities...

After getting this book we walked down the Agha Ali Asker Road. Coincidentally I spotted a fading yellow board in one of the crossroads, one can hardly read the name and number of the cross on it. While I was assuring myself that the road is the one, a cyclist stopped by and left his cycle leaning on the board and went about his work. The name supports a Bangalorean even after a century, and that was the moment when I felt that there must be something transcendental about him.

I wish we Bangaloreans remembered and respected the people who made us, a little more🙏🙂

A few quotes from the book:

To sit and manage a horse is the most important thing in the world- Sir Winston Churchill

The true journey is not crossing the desert or covering great distances by sea, it is arriving at a point outside ordinary experience, where the savour of the moment suffuses all the contours of the inner life.-Kevin Rushby

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

'So Now You Know: Growing Up Gay in India' by Vivek Tejuja-Book Review

A year after the colonial era law of Section 377 was decriminalized Vivek Tejuja’s memoir 'So Now You Know: Growing Up Gay in India' has hit the shelves. I pre-ordered the book not just because of its premise, I was also interested in the voracious reading habit of the author as I follow him on social media for book recommendations. Now that I have read this one, my belief in the power of reading and befriending books has only gotten stronger. Sometimes we turn to books to give ourselves company, fighting a hundred battles within and the outside world. While we read and read and read our subliminal self makes a world of its own where everything is the way we want it to be. We grow stronger, wiser and happier. Therefore, we are in a better place. The Hungry Reader definitely is.

Here is his blog.

Vivek writes about his love for reading and the solace he found in the seas with all that he had to go through. A stereotypical Indian household and standard upbringing, bullying in school and unrequited love, friendships and relationships, social acceptance and the question of identity from the age of nine to nineteen are some issues he writes about. Life is not easy if one is different, we live in a world where hypocrites rule. Despite people coming out to accept their sexual orientation and gender identity, there will be at least one conversation where someone would go “Hey did you know? He is gay!”

Which law to change societal attitude?

I read this book while travelling in the Metro train this morning, the stares and glares I got from people sitting in the opposite row was quite predictable. It did not matter to me, what was important to me was my connection to the author as a reader. My eyes were moist while I read Vivek’s experiences, I did not stop reading. In fact page ninety-six changed me as a person.

I remembered a young boy in his early twenties who was in my cabin in the hospital on a Sunday morning for his retro positive status, while I was following my standard format of counselling midway through the conversation he stopped me to say

” Doctor I am gay…”

I had to pause for a while and realign my thoughts to counsel him for treatment again. I cannot share more details because of confidentiality and ethical issues. While he got himself tested and started his therapy, I was happy that I did not treat him differently for what he is. He must have had a war inside his head to reveal this to me, a stranger whom he met five minutes ago.

All people want is respect for their being, love and acceptance is something we don’t ask for from everyone. If people who mean the world give it to us there is nothing like it. Vivek has literally kept his heart out there in this book, a warm hug to you for that. I am going to treasure this book on my shelf. May your bookshelves overflow, may your writing grow.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Treasure Hunt- TV Annaswamy's Book on Bangalore

Bengaluru to Bangalore: Urban History of Bangalore :
from the Pre-historic Period to the End of 18th Century.
T. V. Annaswamy, published in 2003 by Vengadam Publications

And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” so wrote Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist. My search for this rare book on Bangalore got me to various articles and I must thank some fellow Bangaloreans for the knowledge and information they have shared over time.

Meera Iyer for her excellent article in Deccan Herald titled 'A Journey From Rags To Riches' on Dharmarathnakara Rai Bahadur Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar , a philanthropist par excellence who understood the importance of education, especially for the lesser privileged class and gender of the then society.

Divya J Shekhar’s 'Date with history: A century on, Mudaliar's philanthropy is helping the needy' article in The Economic Times adds more to the long list of Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar’s contributions, and a conversation with his great grandson Dr BA Anantharam. a renowned plastic reconstructive hand surgeon with whom I have had the fortune to work with doing some lab tests and signing a few lab reports for his patients.

Another excellent article is by Nila Tamaraa Blog-Magazine titled 'Gandhi At A 140-Year-Old Heritage Building In Bangalore' speaks about a Gandhian event in RRBANMS heritage auditorium, the contribution of the stalwart to the town from Attara Kacheri to schools, dispensaries, choultries and temples and a conversation with TV Annaswamy, the book’s author who is in fact the great grandnephew of Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar.

A recent article 'Schooling Bengaluru since 1873' by Akhila Damodaran in The New Indian Express turned out to be a booster. With a dozen mentions about the book on how well researched the work of TV Annaswamy is and the references that are cited about Bangalore my desire to read this book had grown enormously. Bookstore visits, request mails and online searches continued.

A fortnight ago Udaya Kumar P L of Inscription Stones of Bangalore posted about the greatness of this book saying “Every Bangalorean must have a copy in his/her home…” which pumped me up. Following this a random search on Facebook while travelling in Namma Metro brought me to a page called Art Tipsy with a post about promoting this book in 2014. Curiosity surfaced, I contacted the owner of the page hoping for some luck and ta-da! A few conversations and days later the book reached home, thank you Asha Ramamurthy and Ramamurthy Annaswamy for the gesture and love given to a fellow Bangalorean. I am indebted forever.

It is the collective experiences like these that transcend beyond time from the 1900s to 2019; beyond places from Whitefield to Kengeri through benevolent and insightful people who make the city of Bangalore what it is, not just the weather.

Bangalore indeed feels like home.

The ‘Kannada Gothilla’ and ‘Dead End Right’…
The ‘One and Half’ and ‘Traffic Saar’...

…are bearable because of the Bangaloreans who love and live in this city.
Happy reading and sharing!