From a time when Bengaluru was ruled by kings to the burgeoning metropolis it has become today, Gubbi Narasimaiah Lakshmipathi has seen many a seasons in his lifetime and has lived to tell the tale.
Age, he proves, is just a number.
Earlier this month, the father of four, grandfather of 10 and great-grandfather of 16, clocked in his 100th birth anniversary.
He has witnessed two defining events in the history of mankind — World War II and the Independence of India. He is also part of a generation which has seen unprecedented technological advancements including the invention of electronic TV, mobile phones and discovery of antibiotics.
The second child to his parents, GN Lakshmipathi was born on May 7, 1917 in Gubbi in Tumakaru district, to a family of builders.
Soon after finishing his intermediate education in Bengaluru, he joined his father’s business which had been running for generations.
“There used to be only four high schools in this area back then,” he reminisces.
“We ran a factory that manufactured cement blocks and coloured flooring tiles. We had to borrow Rs 800 to start the unit. Each day, the labourers were paid 6 annas, whereas the head would get 1 rupee 8 annas,” Lakshmipathi recalls.
The value of money was high and you could get 16 ser (1 ser=0.93310 kg) ragi for a rupee.
restaurant receipt of 1971
Of kings and the invaders
Times were simpler, yet the issues they faced were complex, albeit of a different kind, says Lakshmipathi.
The British had settled in the Cantonment area, then called dandu, where Indians were not allowed without permission.
“Only those who worked there, like waiters, bartenders, and maids were allowed to go there. There were several toll gates in the city and the natives would have to pay to access certain areas,” he says.
For instance, anyone entering the Cantonment area had to pay 2 annas. There was also an annual cycle license of Rs 3. Cars were rare and most people used tongas to commute.
Bengaluru’s population back then was roughly around a lakh, and Lakshmipathi spent his growing years seeing the Maharajah of Mysore.
“The Maharajah used to stay in the Bangalore Palace in summers. He used to arrange Carnatic music shows for the British. I was 12 or 13 then and used to walk all the way from Balapet to the Palace to catch a glimpse of the performance. During the Dasara mela, there was one day marked just for women and they had to wear a veil to attend it. Even the supervisors on that day were not men,” he recalls.
Back then, the current Kempegowda bus terminal used to be the Dharmabudhi lake. Hundreds of birds would descend on the lake enthralling the crowd that would gather to watch them fly back each evening.
Funnels, an evening club near MG Road, was a popular hangout spot for the British. “Indians were scared to go to that part,” he says.
They had some lighter moments too.
“My friends ran a shop selling knick knacks. The British, who came late in the evening to the shop, would often be inebriated. They had with them fat rolls of currency and at times, in their drunken stupor, they would drop a few notes. My friends used to kick the notes under the counter and later share it among themselves,” he chuckles.
Lakshmipathi shares an interesting anecdote about how Sivasamudram falls got the name “Bluff falls.”
The hydroelectric power plant set up near the falls is said to be the first major power station in India.
The story goes that a group of British had seen the falls and one of them “had the guts” to approach the Maharajah’s minister and suggest the installation of a hydropower project. His colleagues, however, did not believe him, and called him a “bluffer”.
While the Maharajah gave permission for the project on the condition that part of the electricity generated would go to Kolar Gold Fields and the Palace, the unflattering moniker stuck to the falls.
Seeing Gandhi and the Independence
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi used to stay at the Kumara Krupa during his visits to the city. Lakshmipati was in primary school when he first saw the Mahatma.
“Gandhi thatha has come,” they were informed in school. Since the crowd around the man would be thick and the children were not tall enough to see him over the gathering, they crawled on the ground, reached the front and saw him.
Another time, when Nehru was to come to Bengaluru, Congress party members constructed a 50 feet pole to hoist the flag on a ground in the city. The next day, they found that it had been knocked down to the ground, presumably by the British.
In the years prior to 1947, citizen protests started erupting all over the country with the centre point in Bengaluru being near the current day civil court.
When the country finally got its freedom, there were “grand celebrations.”
The first flight that Lakshmipathi took was from Bengaluru to Chennai, and the fare was Rs 45. The first phone his family got was in the 50’s and they have been using the same number since then.
When he got an imported radio from Germany, people thronged their house to see it, and would call him a “big man for having a radio.”
Apart from sports, Lakshmipathi had always been interested in the arts and later in his life would go on to produce several Kannada movies including the 1973 Girish Karnad directed Kaddu.
“Those days…” his voice trails off.
“He keeps on telling me that he misses the quiet,” says his eldest son, Ram Prasad. “It was cooler back then. They used to wear sweaters right from September. No fans in any house. He still hasn’t gotten used to the AC,” he says.
“In those days,” Lakshmipathi says feelingly, “we used to get coffee, masala dosa and a sweet for 2 and a half annas in Balapet. Now the same will cost you around Rs 150.”
Secret to longevity
With several members of his family are struggling with cholesterol and other related ailments, Lakshmipathi became conscious about health early in life. Today, at a hundred years old, he doesn’t have too many health issues, apart from having to look after his blood pressure.
“When my mother would cook mutton, there would be a layer of oil over the curry. I had some doctor friends and have been careful about how much fat I consume,” he says.
The secret to his long life is simple but requires discipline.
He wakes up at 4.30am every day and goes out for a walk at 7am. On returning, he reads the newspapers, has a cup of coffee and takes a nap. His lunch in the afternoon usually comprises ragi mudde, curry, rice and curd. He watches TV in the evening, has a light dinner of idlis and retires to bed early.
Does he feel one hundred years old?
“I don’t know. I follow my routine. Listen to beautiful Carnatic music. I like MS Subbulakshmi. A book on Mudras that I had gifted has also been a lot of help,” he says.