Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The RBANM behind the RBANM schools and colleges

I had the honour of meeting Mr TV Annaswamy some days ago. Anyone who is interested in the history of Bangalore would probably be familiar with that name - he is the author of Bengaluru to Bangalore: Urban History of Bangalore from the pre-historic period to the end of the 18th century, a comprehensive compendium of information on Bangalore f
rom numerous, varied sources. I went to meet him not because of his role as an author but because Mr Annaswamy is the grand-nephew of Rao Bahadur Arcot Narrainsawmy Mudaliar, i.e., RBANM.

I had long wanted to know more about this man RBANM who had lent his name to so many institutions and grounds in Ulsoor. So I started from his death. I knew from Wikipedia and here that he was buried somewhere on Veerapillai Street so one morning, a friend and I set off to look for his grave.

Addresses have changed. So have people. Most people we knew had no idea who we were talking about. We were variously directed to the RBANMS grounds and an old hamam (which I have to check out sometime). Even the people at the post office had no idea where the grave might be. Finally, it was a sardarji in a tyre shop who knew exactly what we were looking for and directed us to the spot (unfortunately, I forgot to ask him his name, nor do I remember the name of the shop).

The samadhi was inside a neat little compound in a corner of a huge cricket field, opposite what appeared to be a pay-and-use bathroom and what I presume was a warehouse. It was locked and neither the puzzled person at the warehouse nor the drunk watchman at the gate to the warehouse-bathroom area (and the samadhi) knew when it would be open. From the outside, I could tell that a shrine has been built around the grave, but since I have not yet gone back to check inside, I cannot tell you what it looks like inside the shrine.

I was disappointed with the samadhi, but not entirely surprised. Not one of the people we talked to in the area knew about it or seemed to care. It was lost inside and belittled by its inappropriate surroundings. Right outside its gates, all I could see were huge construction debris and paraphernalia like huge tin sheets. But at least there was a board and the samadhi itself seemed very neatly maintained.

But the samadhi had piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know more about RBANM. Enter Mr Annaswamy. Well, actually, I entered his office and immediately noticed all the yummy antique furniture. "Everything here is antique...including me," quipped Mr Annaswamy. He was a charming, helpful and soft-spoken person, and only too happy to talk to me about his ancestor. Being passionate about history in general, he has taken it upon himself to compile as much of his family's history that he can. "My family thinks I am a little mad," he said, smiling at his obsession.

Mr Annaswamy had retired as the Joint Director of Town Planning in
the GoK and had written a book that was highly regarded, but here he
was generously giving of his time to a paltry freelance writer. He talked to me about his collage, helped me with photographs and entertained all my questions. I couldn't help but admire his humility and grace. I learnt about how RBANM could hobnob with Bowring and Sankey but never forgot his nationalist spirit, how he never forgot the help that the Maharaja gave him, how he argued for entry to temples for everyone fo all castes, how he had believed that wealth was something that was meant to be shared.

At the end of the interview, I came back impressed by one man, inspired by the other.