BASAVANAGUDI: At No 56, Old Kanakapura Road in Basavanagudi was a house that I walked past for decades, wondering who lived in such an elegant mansion. Last year, I finally managed to meet the current owner M R Narendra and found out that it belonged to Sir M N Krishna Rao, former acting Diwan of Mysore. Narendra, the Diwan’s grandson, gave me a guided tour of the mansion and spoke about its history.
The house, which completed 107 years on November 7, stands on a plot measuring around 19,500 sq ft. The original plot had roads on three sides and a conservancy at the back. The then Mysore government allotted the plots to its employees and gave them one year’s salary in advance.
This was the third house to have been built in Basavanagudi after the layout was formed in 1898. The grihapravesham of the house took place on November 7, 1907, and M N Krishna Rao’s parents were the main participants at the event.
Several decades ago, this used to be the last building in the South Eastern side, beyond which there were only trees and shrubs. This regal heritage home still retains most of its original features. It was initially a single storey home, but later, to accommodate the huge family comprising the Diwan, his children and grandchildren, the second floor was constructed. The Shankaracharya from Sringeri Mutt, Shri Chandrasekhara Bharathi inaugurated the first floor in 1927. He performed a puja of the tulsi plant on a Brindavana katte that existed in the open courtyard. This courtyard was later sealed off following a burglary that took place a few decades ago.
The house has a Madras terrace roof with iron and wooden girder supports and thick brick walls held in place by lime concrete. The house had a granite stone staircase leading upto the terrace from the open courtyard, as well as a rosewood staircase inside for access to the first floor. It is a pleasure to climb the rosewood staircase today and hear the sound our heels make when they come in contact with the wood.
The flooring in the living room is made of mosaic tiles, while in the puja room, bedrooms and the dining room, it is made of imported red oxide. In the first floor, red coloured, hexagon tiles imported from Austria are used for flooring. In the olden days, bathing in water heated in a hunde (copper pot) with firewood was a pleasure. The electrical casing in some parts is still the old wooden kind and a few original bulky switches can also be seen in this house. There is also a wooden old era gate to this house on the South East side. The original ground floor, before 1927, comprised a puja room, kitchen, the present dining room, store room and bathroom with a Mangalore tiled roof. A second hall running perpendicular from east to west, which was adjacent to the open courtyard, was used as dining hall, where the joint family of Sir Krishna Rao comprising 35 members used to enjoy their meals. The spacious compound on either sides of the building had a beautiful garden. The owner tells me, with a twinkle in his eyes, about the time when birds used to flock to his garden and generations of children played around the trees. All that is a distant memory for him today.
This house has seen many an illustrious visitor like Diwan Sir Mirza M Ismail and the Yuvaraja of Mysore who visited the house in 1935 to see the Scott Radio purchased by Sir M N Krishna Rao. This radio, manufactured by the Scott Radio Company of USA, was one of the three sets that came to India. The best piece of history on view in this house is the vintage car owned by the Diwan. This 1935 Standard car, purchased for `4,500, has been painstakingly restored recently.
I also came across many antique items like the Diwan’s Knighthood and his photos. There is an Ansonia wall clock, manufactured in 1871, which displays the day, date, week and month. It is still in working order with a time accuracy of ± 5 minutes per week. I make a silent prayer for this clock to never stop ticking and this house to celebrate its 200th birthday.