I was born and brought up in Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), a small mining town in the erstwhile Mysore State now known as Karnataka. KGF, as everyone knows, had a very sizable Anglo-Indian (AI) Population who lived and worked there for generations. It was well known for its colonial ambience with elegant bungalows replete with huge lawns and gardens and many clubs with tennis and badminton courts, golf courses etc. This place, which was known as ‘Little England’, was unique for its secular and egalitarian society not found anywhere else in the world. Even though gold was being surface extracted by the natives earlier, KGF actually came into existence in the year 1880, when a small British Trading Company called JOHN TAYLOR AND SONS established the first shaft for systematic gold extraction. They continued to be the owners till 1950, when Mr. Arthur Taylor, the last of the Taylors handed over the company to the Government of Mysore. Since then KGF has been owned first by the state Government then later by the Government of India and now it is totally defunct. The mines were closed a few years ago and with it one of the most famous Gold Mines in the world came to an end. It was the end of an era.
Many generations of Anglo-Indians worked in the different mines in KGF in different capacities. Everyone was happy and contented. Since it was such a small mining town, everyone knew everyone else and for weddings, funerals, dances and other functions all the Anglo-Indians in KGF would more or less be present. Life in KGF was glorious and almost every family had a retinue of Domestic Helpers i.e. “Ayahs, Malis (Gardeners), Chokaras, Thais, Sweepers, Tea-Boys, etc. who were part of the family.
The AI boys studied at the KGF School in Nandidroog Mine, where my Aunts Pansy White and Beryl Morris were strict disciplinarians. The Pinto sisters, Mrs. Monnisse, Mrs O’Connor, Mrs Godfrey, etc were all famous and well loved teachers. The AI girls studied at St. Joseph’s Convent in Champion Reefs, where the nuns Mother Margurite, Sisters Miriam, Mary of the Cross. Mary Presentation, Magdalene, Regina, Immaculata, Patricia, etc were equally strict. My aunt Luda Bertie, Miss Sharma, Mrs Johnson, the Steven sisters, etc are loved and remembered even today.
Childhood in KGF was blissful. No luxuries like the present generation but never the less happy with simple pleasures and games like Butch, Football, Throw ball, Spinning Tops, playing Rounders, and Seven Stones, “ L O N D O N”, flying kites (after coating the sting with “Manga” which is a mixture of glass pieces, paste etc. so as to cut the other persons kite mid-air), I Spy and many other simple games. There was no TV in those days. It was just a very old radio which would be tuned and switched on by the parents only, at times designated by them. Programmes would be mostly news and songs from All India Radio and Radio Ceylon with Vijay Correra doing the honours. We would send in requests for favourite songs and wait eagerly for our names to be announced.
Now in a lighter vein, I would like to share a small childhood memory of the bathrooms/ Toilets in KGF. The houses in KGF were colonial style homes. Earlier, there was no underground drainage system, septic tank etc. As a matter of fact the modern WCs were introduced only in the late 60s. Just aluminum Chamber Pots on Commode stands lined up in a row in the Toilets one for each member of the family, The Stands would be painted blue, green or brown with a matching wooden cover for each. Every morning the night soil sweeper would come with her bucket to “Collect” the contents in the chamber pots and clean them with a mixture of soap solution and powdered Charcoal, which would make the pots literally shine like silver. This was quite a ritual and they would be inspected closely to see whether they were washed well without any residues left behind. The pots would then be left in the sun to dry for some time while the sweeper lady washed the floors of the bathroom, then once again they would be replaced on their respective stands, ready for the day.
As children, we took this for granted as a way of life. Now looking back we cannot imagine asking present day children with their very luxurious bathrooms, which are now “Glamour Rooms” to use a Chamber Pot. The very occupation of the Night Soil Sweeper is now abolished and the old Chamber Pots have since vanished forever.
Likewise, KGF too is just a distant memory for all KGF-ites. The KGF of today makes us weep for its bygone glory. Long live KGF in the hearts of its erstwhile inhabitants wherever they may be.
(Bridget White Kumar is a Bangalore based author of 5 Cookery books specializing in Anglo-Indian Cuisine.)