Monday, 30th October 2017

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In search of Brown Sahib's bungalow in Bangalore

Past and present can be elusive alike in Bangalore

By Uddalak Mukherjee
  • Published 23.12.18, 12:31 AM
  • Updated 23.12.18, 12:31 AM
  • 3 mins read
According to Satyajit Ray, Evergreen Lodge (in pic), Brown sahib’s bungalow, was located in Frazer Town Sourced by The Telegraph

I had dropped three coins in a local wishing well before travelling to Bangalore. The three wishes were as follows — I wanted to sneak up, uninvited, on Rahul Dravid (even the Little Master did not quite possess the Dravid Square-Cut, a sublime mix of power and artistry); I wanted to feast on Koshy’s goodies; and, finally, I wanted to find Brown Sahib’s bungalow, the cottage in a short story by Satyajit Ray, that is visited by Simon, the sahib’s spectral cat.

Only one of my wishes, however, came true. But that could be because the coins had drowned not in the jagrato Trevi Fountain in Rome but in a parar pukur. I did drown in a delicious bowl of fowl curry rustled up by the cook at Koshy’s. But Dravid remained elusive, choosing — quite correctly — to ignore a gushing text message that I had sent.

The fate of the third wish remained uncertain. Here is why.

Having met the followers of an ancient saint — Basavanna was quite the flavour in Karnataka’s electoral season this year — I decided to follow the steps that would lead me to John Middleton Brown’s door. According to Ray, Evergreen Lodge, Brown sahib’s bungalow, was located in Frazer Town. But Ray’s Bangalore, I discovered, was vastly different from the city that I was visiting. The heat and humidity made it difficult for me to believe that the British — Mr Brown must have agreed — once found Bangalore’s air to be restorative. Ray’s pleasant, sleepy, noiseless Bangalore — a swapnorajya in his words — began a fierce assault on my senses with blaring car-horns, vehicular pollution and nightmarish traffic.

But Bangalore, I discovered, could be as wily as Ray’s spooky cat. For the city teased me with occasional glimpses of that other, now-vanished, Bangalore. One evening, as I was taking a stroll inside the famed Cubbon Park, I thought I saw, in the failing light, an Englishman, a glowing pipe hanging from his mouth, scurry into the lengthening shadows. It could have been Mr Brown, even though Simon, his cat, was not accompanying him.

Then, there is Falnir House. The decrepit bungalow stood, seemingly abandoned, at the heart of bustling Church Street, indifferent to its noisy pubs and their noisier patrons. Could Falnir House be Evergreen Lodge? I decided to find out.

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The Telegraph

One afternoon, as Church Street dozed after yet another long night of revelry, I stepped into the premises of Falnir House. The gate — it opened with a creaking sound, the kind that the Ramsay Brothers would have loved to use in their horror flicks — resembled a “wicket”, a contraption that, Ray writes, is commonly found in cottages in the English countryside. The lawn, what remained of it, resembled an unkempt stubble of grass and bushes. I spotted the stump of a tree. (It could have been the one under which Brown buried Simon after the feline’s untimely death.)

The bungalow, though, had been disemboweled. Inside the rooms, I saw skeletal remains of some furniture. But none of them resembled the chair that Simon would curl up on in the evenings. The floor was covered in a thick layer of grime and dust; the setting and a mysterious rancid smell were enough to make even a ghost throw up. Little wonder then that like Dravid, I was denied a darshan by Brown and his black cat.

But I did see a ghost. Falnir House, Brown sahib’s bungalow in my mind, was one, sticking out like a spectral thumb amidst surroundings that had changed irrevocably. And what makes Falnir House a spirit? Its incongruent appearance, its commitment to shapes and forms consistent with an antiquated architectural style, its defiance of its immediate surroundings, exposing Church Street to be the chic but also hellish pit of cravenness that it is and, finally, its devotion to an in-between time, a time that lingers even in death, like a memory. What is a ghost if not a memory?

I do not know when I will visit Bangalore again. But I know that I do want to drop another coin in that para wishing well before I go. I no longer wish to meet Dravid; I no longer crave Koshy’s fowl curry; but, standing in front of that not- so-jagrato pukur with greenish flotsam, I would wish, most fervently, that Falnir House, that crumbling but haughty sanctuary of Mr Brown and his ghostly cat, continues to defy an unkind time and the grubby hands of development.