Ganeśa’s tank

In yet another trip down memory lane, the author talks about a lake he grew up around and the 'Government Rains' of the 1960s.

As kids, we used to chant a popular ditty:

Ganesha banda kaayi-kadubu tinda
Chik-kereyl bidda dodd-kereyl edda

(Ganesha came, ate coconut modaka
Fell in the small lake, emerged from the big lake)

Don’t ask.  But I’ll come to the point. And I do have one, believe it or not.

In the 1960s, when we first moved to Jayanagara 6th block, there were two kereys (tanks). The small tank was to the west of Kanakapura Road and the large tank to the east. Unlike now, the tank bund part of Kanakapura Road was very narrow. If two lorries—usually rickety old Fords—had to pass each other in opposite directions, they had to do so in a delicate dance. For on one side was the steep embankment of the larger tank, and on the other, the even more precipitous cliff at the bottom of which was the Obalappa gardens.

Once you came to the southern part of the big tank, there was precipitous drop to the small tank.

I actually used to visualise Ganeśa falling in the small tank and emerging from the large tank. But the grand send-off to Ganeśa was always in the large tank from the 23rd cross side, where it was a gentle slope down to the water.  

The small tank became a land-fill. It was a highly aromatic experience when the wind blew in our direction! Every other day, there would be a fire and very sad-looking fire engine would show up. The feeble flow of water from the even feebler hose, which looked like it had some very deep-seated neuroses, somehow managed to quench the fires. This was always a huge spectacle. I would stand and watch, along with the other hordes, and then end up being a few minutes late to school. Fortunately, a little sharp talking-to was all I ever got for this transgression.

That land-fill supports a temple, a choultry, and some species of grounds.

The large tank (which still exists) was really large. It was part of the Bengaluru’s network of tanks. In those days, we had real monsoons! Not the wimpy kinds that we have now. My Puneri friend Sunil recently described the monsoon clouds there as “ambitious”, but being scattered to the four directions like so much confetti.

They don’t make monsoons like they used to! We had Government (sarkāri) Rains. It would start pouring the proverbial cats and dogs around 9ish am, and let up at about 11 am. During the day there would be scattered buckets of water dumped on us. Around 4ish pm it would bring it on … there was action in those clouds. They meant business. Muscular chaps. They took their jobs seriously. They were the type that inspired Kālidāsa to write the Mēghadūtam. They were not just ambitious; they fulfilled themselves in no uncertain times.

The ‘Government’ moniker had two aspects: it coincided with office-going and office-leaving times of people in government jobs (what a very large number of middle-class people had in those days). This made it very inconvenient for us kids, too, for our school timings were also similar. Only the Government could organise something so stupid! Hence, on both counts, Government Rains.

Back in those days, we walked to and from school. In the Government rains. In knee-deep water. Barefoot. Up-hill. Both ways! And we liked it!!

No, no, I jest. I did nothing of the sort. I just got soaked a bit. And so did my books (and that was the bigger worry).

So the big tank would receive a phenomenal amount of inflow (and the concomitant outflow also would happen, of course). Plus it served the function of most bodies of water in India. It was where people would go and do… well, … you know… I mean…  you know… number two.

I learned later in life the term “rich in organic nutrients.” In terms of organic nutrient richness, this tank was richer than Señor Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man as I write this.

Then, somewhere out there, some shipments of some kind came to India from Brazil. The contents of the shipments were distributed here and there. Along with that came, so I am led to believe, the starting materials for water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). Eventually, it reached our tank. And before you could say “dodd-kereyl-edda”, the whole tank was covered with this plant.

Post-both monsoons (yes, there are two of them; at least, there were!), come the foggy winter months – late-November to about Śivarātri. In the early mornings there would be a thick fog over the tank. At some particular point of the morning, the fog would become thinner, and faint golden sunlight would sneak its way through and shine on the hyacinth leaves and flowers. All the surfaces would gleam as though freshly laundered.

When I was an undergraduate student at National College (Basavanagudi), in the chill of the morning, as this scene developed, I would walk along the tank bund road to go to a house near M N Krishna Rao Park, to tutor an 8th standard kid in Samskrtam.

Following me used to be MSS’s voice singing the Kāmākshi suprabhātam, followed by Muttusvāmi Dīkshitar’s Kanjadalātākshi (these, courtesy of our own Cycle Shop Thimmayya). I would listen to these. By the time I reached the mortar makers near the end of the tank bund part of the road, those songs would fade away.

The early morning coughs—which I can still mimic with great precision and finesse, much to the disgust of my auditors—would take over the soundscape I traversed. People wrapped in swathes of cloth would be seen wending their way to the tank to… ahem.

The tank is much cleaner now, the road much wider, better paved. There is an eco-friendly spot to send Ganeśa off. That hideous sculpture that stood there scaring the bejeezus out of many a passer-by is gone (thank you!). There is a lovely park next to the lake where you can support the local wildlife by sitting there and feeding the mosquitoes.  There is no fog, nor the kind of voluminous inflow and outflow. The water hyacinth seems to have given up.

And the people using the tank for… they probably still do. I don’t know.

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