Hundred-year-old Dr. K.S. Sethuram rewinds with his recollections of a Bangalore that was
Bangalorean K.S. Sethuram was 20 years old in 1932 when he proposed to 13 year old Mahalakshmi. In the early 20th century, proposing like that was most unusual. But the 100-year-old Dr. Sethuram’s life has been offbeat and eventful like that.
Born in 1912, he still walks erect, is mentally alert, and recalls how, during his first year of MBBS at Mysore Medical College, he would visit her —cycling 110 km from Mysore to Hulikere every Sunday to briefly be with his lady love.
On July 10, 2007, he celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary and said: “As a bridegroom back in 1932, I had to go in a slow procession in a Paige car, with bearers holding gas lanterns on their heads, walking alongside. Even at that slow pace, the car broke down. Twenty persons had to push it to the Hanuman temple.”
This spunky centenarian doctor tells many stories. “Bangalore was a sleepy town with very little traffic on narrow roads. In 1930, driving my father’s Singer car, if I drove around for 15 or 20 minutes, I would get to see another car. Once, on a trip to Agumbe in a Morris car with canvas top, while approaching Tarikere, we spotted a tiger. I stomped on the brake, the engine died and we sat in our seats trembling. We needed to get off to go to the front of the car to re-start the engine as it had to be cranked up with a handle. After what seemed like hours, the tiger walked away. Only then did we work up the nerve to alight, crank the engine to restart the car.”
He graduated in medicine from Mysore Medical College in 1938, and is the oldest surviving alumnus. He recalls professor of pathology, Dr. Rosenthal, who had a heavy German accent. “Another professor,” he says, “taught us the mnemonic ‘Sister Lucy’s Face Often Attracts Medical Students’ — each word in the sentence denoting a branch of the carotid artery.”
He set up a private practice and worked as a successful, popular general practitioner in the Cantonment area in a career spanning 55 years in which poor patients were treated for free. Even today, people from different communities remember Dr. Sethuram’s contribution to the wellbeing of their families.
“In the early years, we administered a mix of medicinal powders and liquid mixtures for various ailments. Even after the advent of prescription pills, patients would insist on having powders packed in folded paper. So, we would crush the tablets to make powders!”
“Bangalore was pollution-free. Trees abounded…Malleshwaram, now densely populated, was then known by the epithet, ‘Kaadu’, meaning forest. The Maharajas preserved the greenery. Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel, was the Director of Horticulture, in whose honour a road skirting Lalbagh was named; he was responsible not only for enriching Lal Bagh and Cubbon Park with exotic trees and plants from around the world, but also in developing tree-lined avenues. In his serial blossoming concept, different species would bear flowers one after the other.”
Modern structures dot the landscape, but many formerly tree-lined streets are no longer what they were, he observes. “What an irony that Avenue Road still bears that name!” The road from the National High School to Chamrajpet had gigantic, magnificent trees which created a magical green canopy high above, he recalls.
“Even in the height of summer, we never needed fans. I would wear three-piece woollen suits to work through the year. I would get them stitched with smart waistcoats by expert tailors on Commercial Street and South Parade. The typical colonial-style bungalows on South Parade, in one of which Winston Churchill resided, is a far cry from what is now Mahatma Gandhi Road, with its tall concrete buildings and the elevated Metro railway.”
The vegetables and fruits in those days tasted great, especially averekai, with its unique ‘sogadu’, or aroma. The flowers had a lingering fragrance, he reminisces.
“I played tennis at Bowring Institute for over 50 years, won several trophies in veteran tournaments and was honoured as the oldest tennis player in Bangalore in 1994. I am very happy that I never needed the services of a doctor myself. My working days would stretch over 12 hours day after day, year after year. I rarely took holidays, till late in my life. Two simple meals and an afternoon snack were all that I needed. I never felt tired, in spite of playing tennis vigorously for a couple of hours daily, and being on my feet at work all day till well into the night. Be a vegetarian, eat modestly, don’t smoke, and don’t drink – that’s my advice to anyone who is willing to listen.”
His wife, Mahalakshmi, was a chess champion and this great grandmother has published 15 novels and a poetry collection in Kannada. The couple married again at their sixtieth wedding anniversary, exchanging garlands in 1992, in a ritual known as Kalyanotsava.
Keywords: Bangalorean K.S. Sethuram, 100-year-old Dr. Sethuram, Mysore Medical College, oldest surviving alumnus, spunky centenarian doctor, Mysore-Hulikere cycling, Bowring Institute, oldest tennis player in Bangalore