Mangalore | The Old Order of Changeth

As the dawn breaks over Mangalore, M. Gopakumar shares his poetic journey through its streets, where stately houses whisper tales of bygone eras, cricket fields harbor hidden delights, and the aroma of milky tea mingles with the essence of nostalgia.

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5:30 a.m. 
A cloudless sky

I think of Mangalore as a precocious teen that has grown a trifle too soon. On the main roads, I walk past malls, shut at this early hour, and the rest of urban paraphernalia: endless rows of shops and restaurants, buses rushing by and tall apartment towers with awful names like Elite-something and Vishwas-I-am-Ugly something and an eyesore called Stone Heights, which should be called Stone Heights-of-Hideousness.

So, I turn off the road at the first possibility and enter a side road—of not much help—so, then a side road off the side road. It is an entrance into a different, ancestral world; an old stately house, now in ruins, its porch a remnant of colonial grandeur, each window seeking solace in repair. A cattle trap and a road beyond that is now home to Colocasia. A lovely villa called Howzaat!—the owner wants you to know that he lives the game and retired from LIC—and walls of laterite and tile that live, if you know what I mean, carrying a profusion of biodiversity and memories of better days, yet holding tenaciously on to a fragile present. 

Sometime later, I cross the main road and enter another lane and the stately houses live on, here in better, occasionally impeccable, condition. The designs reveal their vintage, some built in the early years of the 20th century with heavy mortar, thick walls of laterite stone and round pillars, tiled roofs, and all-wooden windows, others in the immediate post-colonial years and yet others in the ’70s and ’80s when cement became ubiquitous and grills were implanted in windows. About the only thing I disapprove of are the needlessly intricate designs of some of these grills, particularly those that have been added to old homes. As someone once said, grills are not the main thing, they are the only thing.

I think that someone was me.

These villas once received the fragrance of the sea each morning, and as I walk, I imagine that old homes and stones have stories to tell; of an era that lived tradition and slow food and joint family, with all its drawbacks and constriction, yet this remarkable town, as it used to be, was far more liberal, evolved, and aware in its time. I imagine stories of drama, valour, and intrigue that would be enthralling. But this is, as you have now guessed, a flight of fancy and morning wanderings of the mind (and the absence of tea in the system). The Rasquinhas and Kamaths and D’Souzas and Pintos and Shenoys who have lived in these homes for generations are some of the brainiest people ever; it’s eating fish every day, no doubt, that endows those brains.

I walk around a cricket field: a charming little building alongside the field houses a military hotel (for those from a later era, a military hotel is one that serves non-veg, a Hindu MH is one that will not serve beef). This field has fine banyan trees, ones that regular walkers pay little attention to, and I hear parakeets and mynahs in the canopy. A convent with a stunning jackfruit tree by its side, a man walking past with an umbrella—which, this morning, is the pinnacle of pessimism—a white-breasted kingfisher shrieking past on its always-urgent errand, a walker who has spread his morning newspaper out on the stack of stones around a tree. 

And, finally, a god-awful syrupy glass of milky tea. I have forgotten – for once – to pack tea in my luggage, so call this Divine Retribution.

It’s time to hit the road—rather, the rail—again.

14 Responses

  1. Beautifully described..Mangalore is a truly wonderful town on its own …a continuity of the legacy era of colonial times taken over slowly by tall buildings.

  2. Gopalkumar’s piece neither has depth nor content…. just does not reflect the striking title. So vague that one dies not see what he is trying to say.

  3. Beautiful narration. Would have loved to read more, but it ended abruptly on a glass of tea
    Keep bringing such journeys

  4. Couldn’t have said it better. Apt analogy a Teenager who grew up or i say leap frogged in growth. While I am for growth of a city, it’s the greed and inconsideration of builders for Architecture and local flora and fauna too that has me feeling frustrated and sad.

  5. Very well written. Mangalore was where I spent my vacations while in school. Today as a senior citizen, I can see the fast growing city losing its beauty, serenity and peace. Sad but true. Wish there was some effort to preserve the natural beauty of the city.

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