"See Sandur in September" declared none other than Mahatma Gandhi upon his visit to the Karnataka town in the early 1930s. Fifty years ago, it was still as lovely as the Mahatma had declared it to be. Its lush green fields and blue hills presented a breathtaking panorama. Its air from the hills, wafting across the fields, was always refreshing. Its summers were never oppressive. When it rained, it poured. Its winters were deadly. On clear nights, you could hear the call of jackals. Instances of panthers picking up somebody’s calf or sheep were common. Our forests still had some game in them.

If you entered the valley from its eastern side (Bellary side), you had to enter through a pass in the hills. There the hills struck you with their rugged majesty. As you reached the town, two big mango groves — one on either side of the road — greeted you and the avenue of tamarind trees along the Bellary-Kudligi Road gave you a feeling of travelling through a tunnel of foliage. In season, the semi-ripened tamarind was such a delicacy that we made our own lollipops out of it.

Being a mining town — rich in iron ore and red-oxide — Sandur’s rich had mining leases or were engaged in transporting minerals. The educated middle class worked as managers and clerks in mining firms or as school teachers or government employees. The others worked as miners or truck drivers, or farm hands or did other jobs. Agriculture and retail trading were the other occupations.

Those days if you were a newcomer, you did not require the address of your host. Just a mention of the name would do. Some Good Samaritan at the bus stand would pick up your bag and lead you to the house. If you tried to tip him, he would just decline.

Our town was such that one did not require wristwatches and clocks. The palace gong would announce time every hour. For people residing on Bellary Road, passing buses would also indicate the hour. We had one thatched roof cinema. Before the beginning and end of every show, it would play a certain gramophone record of a Telugu devotional film song rendered by Ghantasala. This would mean 6 p.m. or 9 p.m., or midnight, as the case may be. Whenever we wanted to watch a movie, we would send word to the proprietor. He would wait for us. Only after we were comfortably seated would the projector be switched on. Such were the perquisites of our place which no Finance Minister could ever tax!

I left the town after my PUC in 1978 with a heavy heart, leaving behind a good number of splendid human beings who were my beloved teachers, friends and acquaintances.

Years rolled by. It was 2000. I was flying from Calcutta to Delhi by a morning flight. Breakfast was served. There was a candy in the tray. When I popped the candy into my mouth, I began to feel a strange sensation. I had eaten this somewhere. Where, what was this? I struggled to place it. After a good 20 minutes, I got the answer — it was a refined version of the tamarind lollipop of my childhood! Oh! My Sandur!

Three months ago, I visited the place of my birth along with my wife. I could not recognise my town. The mango groves and tamarind trees were all mercilessly axed in the name of development. When the very soul is gone, does any development matter? The town’s mineral wealth has become its bane. Harmony between man and nature has become the casualty. The rising temperature presaged the impending summer. I am told it rains just so-so. There is hardly any winter now. People in the town may command many luxuries but they have lost the luxury of rolling out their own tamarind lollipops fresh from the trees.

Someday, someone will surely ask: did that great man really say ‘See Sandur in September’?

(The writer is an Associate General Counsel, ITC Ltd., Kolkata. His email: ganti.mn@itc.in)

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