A Granddaughter Is Born At Ratna Vilas Road


The Diary of Ramabrahma. The Date is July XX, YYYY

Thulasi felt the first pains early this morning. Sheshagiri phoned to Kutti who came here at 5 a.m She took Thulasi to Vani Vilas hospital where the birth of  a daughter took place at 7.55 a.m.

Today is Subramanyam’s birthday. I gave him Rs. 5/-

Kutti who came here from the Vanivilas hospital at 12.30 p.m. dressed my leg. It is healing quite well.

Lakshmi read 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Chandogya Upanishad.

July 29

Thulasi and her baby were brought home by Kutti and Sheshagiri.

Wrote a letter to Ramakrishna giving him this informtion.

Lakshmi came at 2.30 p.m. and read Chapter VII of the Chandogya .

Harihara Iyer who is leaving for Kottayam at 6.20 came to take leave of me. With his much broken health, he looked a weak man. This leave-taking touched me. I wished him good health and long life.

July 31

Cradling of the new baby

This function took place between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and was attended mostly by our close relatives. There were a few men too.

I sent a cheque for Rs 30/- in favour of Vimala. It is a present to her on her birthday which falls tomorrow.

August 26

Kutti and Mangala came in the evening and took Thulasi and the baby to all the temples of Visveswarapuram.

There was a shower in the evening.

Paid Rs, 5/- to Sheshagiri. Paid Rs. 10/50 to Gangabai- her pay for 13 days. From 1st to 13th inclusive.

Paid Rs. 5 to Lakshmi, the maid servant, to be recovered at the beginning of next month.



I chanced upon two diaries of Grandfather Ramabrahma of Mahadev Vilas, Ratna Vilas Road, a couple of years ago while I was decluttering our shed. As soon as I realized what the two Bangalore Press Pocket Diaries were, I dismissed Siddaraju who was helping, for the day. With great excitement and urgent curiosity, I turned the pages to find the entry on the day I was born. And sure enough there it was.

Grandfather Ramabrahma had recorded the birth of his granddaughter! And that grandaughter is me!

To me, the discovery of these two diaries is comparable to the the learned Shyama Shastri (librarian, and later curator at Oriental Research Institute, Mysore) chancing upon the manuscript of Arthashastra! May I add that this happened under the stewardship of Alladi Mahadeva Sastry, curator of ORI at the time. Yes, the same Mahadeva Sastry, father of Ramabrahma, who had given his father’s name to his house on Ratna Vilas Road .

I’m quite certain Ramabrahma would have taken to Facebook like a duck to water. His diaries, for 1964 and 1966, are a delight! They are the status updates of the sixties. About the comings and goings of Ramabrahma, his sons and daughters, grandchildren and his own siblings, his circle of friends.

His universe was Basavanagudi and its environs. Walks to MNK Park, purchases in Gandhi Bazar, visiting his brother on Patalamma Gudi Road, meeting his friends and fellow-walkers.Celebrating births and weddings, festivals and of course, his preoccupation with the status of his own health. The visits to his doctors, the change in medication, the purchase of medication from Basavanagudi Society’s pharmacy.

I had heard from Amma, my mother Thulasi, that Ramabrahma ( who was also her maternal uncle) lived by the clock. He loved to note the time he did anything. Or the time anyone did anything. Like the time I was born. I always knew it was 7.55 am, because my horoscope says so. But to find it written in Ramabrahma’s diary is to know its carved in stone.

I have an image of him, not given much to smiling. And generally nor very expressive of his feelings. These diaries, though tell a different story, of a man who loved his life, revelled in the doings of his family and the soaked contentedly in the social life of Basavangudi.

Having lost both grandfathers by the time I was five, I have very little memory of either of them. I often wondered if Chamanna (Ramakrishnaiah) my mother’s father, who had 16 children, could name all his grandchildren . Did he,an advocate in Nellore who translated the Ramayana into Telugu, know of my existence at all? Him, I am getting to know, as I atttempt to translate his Ramayana into English.

Now comes this diary. This serendipitously stumbled upon diary. The diary that tells me of how I was welcomed into this world by a grandfather who was known to be somewhat taciturn, and not given to much humor, unlike his late wife Venkamma, who had once charmed  the legendary Kailasam with here talent for trilingual pun.

When I decided to come into the world, Kutti my father’s sister, a doctor who retired as Superintendent of Bowring Hospital, was summoned by telephone. For which Appa, aka Sheshagiri had to go to our neighbor, Hindu Ramaswamy’s house ,Sita Bhavan , through the connecting gate between our two compounds. For Mahadev Vilas did not boast a telephone connection. Kutti (Dr Kokila ) came over at 5 am took Thulasi to Vani Vilas Hospital. At 7.55 a.m. , I was born. Amma never said so, but the fact tha I took no more than 3 hours to arrive, without much fuss, must surely mean something. Like I am the kindly-adjusting type, who doesn’t like to make life difficult for others.

Although, on that very day , my Big Brother Subri might have had something to say about my timing. You see, it happened to be his 8th birthday on that day. When he woke up, in great anticipation of birthday wishes and presents and treats, the house was silent! Amma was gone! He was told the reason.

The diary says Ramabrahma gave him Rs 5 as a birthday present. Later that day Lakshmi came and read to him the chapters 2 and 3 of the Chandogya Upanishad. Lakshmi Mami was a widow with children who used to come home every day and read to Ramabrahma, mostly from the Upanishads and related texts. This was a source of income for her.

Then Ramabrahma says, Kutti came from the hospital, at 12.30 pm! , and Subri now tells me that she asked him , “So for your birthday, do you want a baby sister, or a baby brother?”

“A baby sister, “ Subri said. He already had a younger brother, our Bunty,  who left us five years ago, and is sorely missed. So he though a sister would do nicely!

Kutti whom we knew and loved as Doctor Athey, said, “come with me, then”, and brought him to Vani Vilas , where he met his 8th birthday present. With whom he has shared every birthday ever since.

According Ramabrahma, I was brought home on July 29, by Kutti and Sheshagiri. He then wrote a letter to Ramakrishna (Chamanna) , Thulasi’s father  who lived in Nellore, informing him that the baby ( yours truly) had been brought home. I guess that means he did not go to the hospital to see me.

I can live with that. He probably wrote a diary all his life, . But only these two have survived. In the 1966 diary, on January 9, he notes the birth of his grandson Anand, born to Pandu ( Appa’s elder brother, and our Periappa) and our aunt Leela. At Vanivilas Hospital! It also happen’s to be Thulasi’s birthday! She turned 29 that day. Ramabrahma records both in his diary.

When Pandu arrived at Mahadev Vilas to announce the birth of Anand, Thulasi offered sweets. Panda was surprised. He wondered how she could have heard the news already. (There was no WhatsApp then) Everyone had a good laugh when she said it was her birthday! Of course, I don’t  know if Ramabrahma joined in. May be he was smiling inside?

Anand,is now a fine pediatric surgeon, working, yes, at Vanivilas hospital!

On July 31, the new baby (that’s me!) had the cradling ceremony. All my aunts and uncles must have come for Ramabrahma says close relatives attended.

That day he also made a gift of Rs. 30  by check to Vimala , his daughter whose birthday was on August1. Her son , our cousin Seenu was born on January 5, six months before me. Ramabrahma says Kutti came in the morning to inform him about the baby boy’s birth at midnight.

A few weeks later, on August 26, the diary tells me that Kutti and Mangala (Ramabrahma’s daughters) came in the evening.They took Thulasi and the baby to all the temples in Visveswarapuram.

Wow! Ever since I read that, I can never go past Sajjan Rao Circle without thinking of Grandfather Ramabrahma.

He probably never dandled me on his knee. Or  talked baby to me. But  this is better!

This evening’s outing when I was just five weeks  old, that Grandfather Ramabrahma recorded in his diary,  never ceases  to amaze me.  The arrival of a baby brings the family together  like nothing else.  Here are two aunts, one of whom helped in the delivery of  the baby in this story, coming to take their baby niece on a little outing. Probably the baby’s first outing.  Mangala Athey, I remember  had given me a pair of gold earrings, tiny butterflies with a bunch of pearls hanging from them. A lolak, it was called. I loved  the lolaks, but lost them when I was in my teens. As for Kutti,  she has given us so much affection, and wisdom, and much else that is precious,  that  it’s quite immeasurable.

And then the Grandfather thinks it is an important event,  and writes it down in his diary .

It’s been said of Grandfather Ramabrahma that he was not a talkative man.  I get the impression that  no one had heard him guffaw, or even laugh too loudly.  But he was a correct man.  Being a responsible father , though not a demonstratively affectionate one.  Writing down his accounts. Writing  his diary , about his day. Perhaps he laughed when he was among his friends , when he strolled to the park and sat on the bench.

What if I had never found these diaries ?

We’d never know . How he enjoyed the life he had, and plainly loved having his chldiren, grandchildren his siblings and extended family about him, writing letters, receiving letters. Celebrating birthdays, attending weddings, receiving his sisters and brothers at Mahadev Vilas, celebrating his own 81st birthday and most touchingly, remembering his wife on her death anniversay.

He has listened to the radio coverage of Nehru’s death and marked Gandhi Jayanthi.

Getting to know one grandfather through his telling of the Ramayana, and the other grandfather through his diary- and how life was lived before TV arrived, and Facebook was was not even imagined.

Who could say no to that?

Ratna Vilas Road


The picture of our house , in the center. The wall seen here is along Ratna Vilas Road. In the cricket pictures, in the background is  Anand Bhavan if I remember right,  where  Krest Park Apartments stands now

Ratna Vilas Road
This is a picture of our house, Mahadev Vilas, which was at the corner of Ratna Vilas Road and Kanakapura Road. In present day terms, it is diagonally opposite to Krest Park Apts. My grandfather M Ramabrahma bought and moved into that house in 1944 after retiring in Ahmedabad as an education officer in the Bombay Presidency .
I asked my father, Sheshagiri, who turned 93 this March 12, about Ratna Vilas Road and he of prodigious memory , told me the name comes from a house on the road, where a lady was running an “abhayashram” or a shelter for girls and young women who were victims of exploitation. Sometimes girls who had gone “wayward” and had been abandoned for their sins too found their way there.
My father who was 21 years old at the time, and studying to be a dairy officer at the National Dairy Research Institute says the house, a smallish building with gabled front, a style that was popular at the time, had a small compound with several trees. He remembers an almond tree or two, and also that it was a bleak, depressing place.
Ratna Vilas Abhyashrama ( not sure about the exact name) was run by a trust, with an endowment left by donor whose name is not known. The girls were given training in sewing, tailoring, and the like.
Not many people wandered into that neck of the woods, so to speak, and it was still developing as a residential area in the forties. It was such a gloomy place, that children didn’t need to be told to avoid going near it. Appa said he and friends rarely wandered in that direction,  unless they  were headed for Nagasandra Circle, or Gandhi Bazar or MNK Park, which they could reach through other roads.
Appa says after a few years, the home wound up, probably ran out of funds, and no one was willing to invest in it. It must’ve been sold, demolished and a new house built , and probably in going by current trend, that too has been pulled down to make way for an apartment block.
That, at least has been the fate of Mahadev Vilas, which had a vast compound, with the house in the middle, and originally had the outhouse on its side facing Kanakapura Road. (This is the road the leads off the South End Road somewhere near what was once Shanti Theatre, and goes on to Armugam Circle, and straight on by MNKrishna Rao Park, past the charming Renuka Devi temple). The outhouse was sold to K.S Ramaswamy, who was Editorial Representative of The Hindu, and named their house Sita Bhavan .and our two families have been friends ( and family by marriage, and sometimes purely on an honorary basis cousins, currently in third generation)This bonding was made all the more easier by the little wicket gate in the compound wall by the big champak tree, between the homes, which saw a great deal of traffic -kids, parents, and the grandparents, playing, knitting, and talking.  As  can be seen from the photographs,  the compound was large enough for a game of cricket to be played. And it was!

This is the house we lived in when I was born, and in the pictures here are my brothers and their cousins and friends playing cricket. In the background can be seen Anand Bhavan , with a bandstand, which has made way to Krest Park Apartments.
Another nugget from Appa illustrates the charming, simple lives that was lived in those days, and indeed into the sixties when I was born. With no TV, or Internet, and telephone being a luxury, people were always visiting each other, exchanges news of births, marriages and deaths, and many things in-between. Even the installation of traffic lights at MG road was big news!
So when the R. B Muthu , wife of Capt. R.B Subramanyam, a doctor who had served in the WW-1 and had settled in Bangalore on retirement, came to Ratna Vilas Road all the way from the Cantonment where they lived, my grandmother, Venkamma, ( Subramanyams were friends of our grand-uncle M. Subramanyam who was a major, and a doctor who had served as health officer of Solapur and who lived on Patalamma Gudi Road) welcomed her, and enquired as to the purpose of her visit to these parts.
Muthu, told here she had come to see about the Ratna Vilas abhayashram.
Which alarmed Venkamma a great deal, who exclaimed, ” Ayyo why do you need become a member of such a place,!”
Muthu explained she was a member of the committee that manages the home, and see to it that everything ran smoothly, much to Venkamma’s relief!
Ratna Vilas Abhayashram must been a strange presence amongst the homes of mostly middle and upper class families settling down in Basavanagudi in the 1940s, and while no one doubted its usefulness , they were also wary of it, probably being aware of how the girls who ended up there came to be there.
It wound up a few years later, until today, when the question has popped up , “How did Ratna Vilas Road get its name?”
I could look to Appa, and ask him! And get an answer.
PS – I spoke to him this morning, and when I rang off, he had left Ratna Vilas Road way behind, and racing toward Model House Street, Alur Venkat Rao Road, which referred to as Albert Victor Road, and mumbling merrily about the bus service from market via Minto Hospital , Shankar Mutt Road and terminating at Old Poor House Road.
PPS: Bye I need to catch up with him