Vidyarthi Bhavan in Gandhi Bazaar is 70 years old. The stories of the eatery's past form a heady mix with the f aromas of their unbeatable dosey it serves, finds Deepa Ganesh

In 1943, when Venkataramana Ural hailing from Saligrama in Dakshina Kannada set up the Vidyarthi Bhavan, little did he know that the humble eatery would become the most significant, nostalgic stop for old Bangaloreans. He probably didn’t even remotely imagine that this was going to be a cultural centre with writers, artistes, film stars visiting the place regularly, carrying out discussions over dosey and several rounds of coffee. Certainly, he didn’t think the place would live on to be 70 and flourish robustly on the model he had envisioned. “We haven’t even changed the weekly holiday,” says Arun Kumar Adiga, who currently runs Vidhyarthi Bhavan.

Gandhi Bazaar, one of the oldest localities of Bangalore, had two major institutions in pre-Independence days – National Education Society, and Acharya Patashala. It was a fairly conservative locality with two communities inhabiting the locality in a major way — middle-class Brahmins and the Telugu-speaking business community. In the hope of capturing the young, student community, as the name suggests, Vidhyarthi Bhavan was set up. “Though Venkataramana Ural set it up, it was looked after by his brother Parameshwar Ural, a benevolent businessman who never compromised on ethics and values,” says Arun Kumar, who regularly visited the old man till his death and was a happy witness to his many reminiscences. Come 70s and the boom in banking sector, most youngsters of the Ural family expressed their disinterest in furthering the business. It was at that juncture that Ramakrishna Adiga, Arun’s father came into the picture. “They bequeathed the business which they cherished. For a good one month, Parameshwar Ural kept my father in the hotel from dawn to dusk like an internee. He taught him every small thing and gave all the recipes. The transition was so smooth – he ran the business till Thursday evening, Friday was a holiday and from Saturday my father was the proprietor,” explains Arun, of that day in 1970.

For a fairly traditional Gandhi Bazaar, dotted with temples, there were quite a few hotels. The earliest among them was Mahalakshmi Tiffin Room, New Modern Lunch Home, Devi Bhavan, and the famous Circle Lunch Home which was originally called Mitrapriya. Each of these hotels was synonymous with one or two dishes, but that didn’t constitute their identity. Circle Lunch Home was the place where most political meetings took place, and during elections, most speeches were made from its rooftop. No one could leave Mahalakshmi Tiffin Room without khaali dose and coffee. Artistes and writers used it as their meeting point and the idea for several creative works were born here. Vidhyarthi Bhavan was no different. It was always packed with students and businessmen, but the taste of their masala dose, sagu dosey and rave vadey was so irresistible that it brought the tallest figures of every arena to their doorstep.

Artistes and writers used it as their meeting point and the idea for several creative works were born here. Vidhyarthi Bhavan was no different. It was always packed with students and businessmen, but the taste of their masala dosey, sagu dosey and rave vadey was so irresistible that it brought the tallest figures of every arena to their humble doorstep.

Every evening Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, one of Kannada’s literary giants who lived in Gandhi Bazaar, would pass by the Vidyarthi Bhavan enroute to the Basavanagudi Club. Without fail, he would pack two rave vadeys in a newspaper, put it in his coat pocket and head to the club. “I have seen poet D.V. Gundappa twice at our hotel,” says Su.Vee. Murthy who joined the hotel as service staff in 1963. Come Saturday and G.P. Rajarathnam would turn up. “He always had a double plain dosey with lots of chutney. But during his late years he could not eat chutney, he would just have dosey,” recalls Murthy.

Lankesh and his family, Aa. Na. Subbarao of the Kalamandira, Kannada activist and novelist Aa.Na. Kru., were also regulars. Tom Cowan, the cameraman for the acclaimed film Samskara, had dosa at Vidyarthi Bhavan everyday while he was in Bangalore. “YNK was the nucleus. Writers, filmstars… many people would gather to meet him here. Vishnuvardhan, Ananthnag, Shankar Nag came here often to meet YNK.”

In fact, after Sumateendra Nadig set up his Karnataka Book House in Gandhi Bazaar, even Gopalakrishna Adiga would frequent the place. For poet Nissar Ahmed, Gandhi Bazaar with its conglomeration of sights, sounds, smells and people, is his muse. He pays tribute in his poem “Manassu Gandhi Bazaar.”

A thespian love for dosey

In a biography of the thespian Rajkumar his fondness for Vidhyarthi Bhavan’s masala dosey is mentioned, and how every now and then his driver would come and packs doseys from here. “Once, that is after Veerappan released him, Rajkumar came to our hotel. Even though we were running business as usual, the people got wind of the actor’s coming, and the whole area was flooded with people and the entire road was blocked. People inside the hotel were refusing to leave. They kept ordering more food, so that they could stay on till Annavru came,” recalls Arun. When the actor came, people had to be forcibly sent out and shutters were drawn. “I always eat your dosey at home. It was Rajnikanth who came to see me recently insisted that I should come here itself and eat,” Annavru told them the reason of his visit. “It was only then that we realised that Rajnikant actually comes to our hotel! We called his friends and found out that he comes in disguise!” says Arun. That day Rajkumar tasted every dish prepared at Vidhyarthi Bhavan, and when he stepped out, all the flower sellers had climbed to rooftops and showered flowers on him. “It was unbelievable! Rajkumar addressed the huge gathering and only then left.”

When Ramakrishna Adiga, Arun’s father, felt that he could no longer manage the business with advancing age, he left the choice to Arun. “I was in great dilemma,” explains the telecom engineer. After days of thinking and talking to loyal customers, Arun decided to run Vidyarthi Bhavan.

“I didn’t want to modernise because it will then become one among many. Once we change our looks, even if we serve the same dosey, people will begin to feel it is different. I realised it was not about dosey, but about nostalgia. I value it greatly.”

Art connection

Su. Vee. Murthy, who was a waiter with Vidyarthi Bhavan for nearly 40 years, has several happy memories “ITI, BEML, HAL… all had their bus stop in front of the hotel. At 6.20 a.m. they would pack about 50-60 dosas!”

Murthy loved to draw and when the hotel closed in the afternoon, he would practise with a chalk on the wooden benches. The proprietor had clearly told him that it had to be cleaned before customers came in. On a day that he forgot to do this, it was noticed by Aa. Na. Subbarao, the brilliant artist who ran Kalamandira – he was a regular at the hotel. “He was very impressed with my work. He asked me to come to his art school and taught me for free,” Murthy becomes emotional. It was because of Aa. Na. Subbarao, Murthy says, that he was recognised by institutions like Kannada Sahitya Parishat. “The first time my paintings were bought I got Rs. 185. That day I went to him and cried.”

Murthy’s pencil sketches of all the important personalities of Karnataka dots the walls of Vidyarthi Bhavan.