Thirty years ago, when the name Whitefield was mentioned at home as a possible place to relocate to, it was to me just an English sounding name in the neighbouring state. Little did I think then that this sleepy little suburban village of Bangalore would create in me feelings of such intense nostalgia even today, a quarter of a century after leaving that place.
Strangely enough, not everyone residing in Whitefield responded to the place the way I did. Many who did not belong there but lived there for reasons of employment had plenty to complain. ( If all you need from life is bread, butter and beef, then Whitefield is just the place for you, Mr. Godrej used to grumble). But to me, time seemed to stand still – I seemed to have gone back some seventy-five years to a corner of colonial India where a number of Englishmen (who did not return to their motherland) settled down for a retired life.
Not that there was a single white man or woman in Whitefield – at least there were none to my knowledge. But there were a few hundred old Anglo Indian couples living there, and many of them had a Briton for an immediate parent. Far away from the rush of the city, they lived clinging to their British ancestry. They read with avid interest British newspapers and magazines (usually back issues) and maintained a non-native life style. Their homes were the most breathtakingly beautiful cottages that I have ever seen. They maintained them with fierce loyalty and whitewashed them during Christmas.
As you passed those cottages, aromas, which triggered off memories of food that you have never eaten but only read of, greeted your nostrils. In the beautiful little church that stood on a small hill, there was English service everyday in the morning and evening. The couples in their seventies, eighties and nineties attended the evening service. I remember the formidable Mrs. Tipsol, a widow who walked smartly despite her eighty odd years, leaning ever so slightly on her stylish walking stick. She would nod her cropped snowy head briskly at every passerby who dared to greet her. She would purse her scarlet lips in deep thought as she played bridge in the Whitefield Recreation Club. She would threaten with the walking stick the measly dog, which followed her wherever she went but would never beat him.
I remember the Chartons who were on the brink of ninety. They teased each other and were still very much in love! I can never forget the twinkle in Mr. Charton’s eyes when, in reply to my polite query, he said, “Dying inch by inch, my dear, inch by inch”
After the church service, some of the couples walked to the maidan of the Inner Circle to sit on the stone benches, while some disappeared into the Recreation Club. By seven, most went home to supper and then to bed. Most of them had resisted the TV – perhaps for fear it would shatter their make-believe world.
The Inner circle comprised cottages built in a circle around the maidan. There were a few huge, shady trees that flowered in blue and violet and yellow and flame and white. The sight took one’s breath away. The neat broad mud road that ran round the maidan was bordered by amazingly out- of- this- world cottages. The sheer fairy tale beauty of the sight brought a lump to my throat. For a mind reared on illustrated nursery rhymes and Grimm’s fairy tales and Enid Blyton, Wordsworth and George Eliot, the Inner Cirle was an impossible dream come true.
The locals too somehow fitted smoothly into the picture. The Kannadiga maid who came sweatered to my house at 6am on misty mornings greeted me with a ‘Morning Ma’am’ and used most naturally English words like garlic, mutton, onion, and parsley, and could prepare to perfection soups and jelly, country captain and apple pie!
I lived for five years in a cottage with low roof and a fireplace, in the heart of a five-acre orchard. My heart skips a beat when I remember the sound of the breeze gently rustling the leaves with its mild hum at night. My immediate neighbours were a couple, both above eighty-five, both half English. They rarely invited us in but were very cordial over the wall. Mr. Rodney could be seen even at noon in his pyjamas, sitting on the stone bench under the huge shady tamarind tree. Mrs. Rodney was often seen at the door of the cottage with a ladle in her hand, yelling at her husband.
I remember with amusement the day he called me excitedly with the ‘great news’. “Big wedding coming, Molly”
“Yes, Mr. Rodney? Whose?”
“ You didn’t know?”
He opened a magazine at a full-page picture of Princess Anne and her fiancé. I smiled politely.
“ You are not excited?”
“ Oh, yes, I am, Mr. Rodney”.
Today, not all my newly acquired desi sentiments can stay me from paying this tribute to Whitefield of yesteryears. I hear that Whitefield is horribly crowded today, and many of those couples I knew have been laid to rest. Those dream cottages have given way to high rises. I shall never go to Whitefield again. I want to preserve it in my memory as a relic of what I today describe as the hated imperialism. No amount of theory or patriotism can mute the singing of my heart when I look back at those five years in that sleepy village. For, nostalgia for an imaginary world created by Jack and Jill, and Polly of the kettle fame, found fruition in my life during those years.