Time passages

The clock tower at the Mysore railway station. Photo: M.A. Sriram   | Photo Credit: M_A_SRIRAM

The season of farewells that began with the telegram continues with goodbyes to another old friend. The HMT watch is soon to become a collector’s item like the Grandfather Clock before it. Hard to believe that there was once an era when owning a wristwatch or having a clock at home was a luxury. People depended on public clocks located at busy city centres to tell them the time. Some of these clocks, set in magnificent towers, bear witness to the life and times to which they belong. Others, of comparable antiquity but lacking in terms of architectural brilliance, have disappeared altogether.

There is something magical about these old clocks. Consider the case of Mysore where there were once as many as seven state-built public clocks within a radius of one kilometre of the Amba Vilas Palace. The clocks fitted in with the city’s aesthetics and the culture of a Maharaja’s capital where the time of day was also marked by a single gunshot fired from the palace at noon. These clock towers are among Mysore’s iconic landmarks and contribute in no small measure to the city’s quaint old-world charm. The elaborately embellished Dufferin Clock Tower adjoining the vintage Devaraja Market was built in 1886 to commemorate the visit of the British Viceroy. Having survived a long spell of neglect and the depredations of hawkers, the Clock Tower received an impressive face-lift two years ago.

On the northern side of the palace, the Silver Jubilee Clock Tower was built to commemorate 25 years of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s rule in 1927. In harmony with the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture seen everywhere in the city, this 75-feet tall square clock tower is also a pleasing blend of East and West, reminiscent of the sartorial style of Sir M. Visvesvaraya the Mysore engineer-statesman, who wore his Mysore peta with a three-piece suit. The distinctly Rajasthani canopy and chhajja above the clock and the Kannada numerals on its face sit well with some prominent features of church architecture such as slit windows.

Alongside these grand clock towers, the one at the City Railway Station holds its own. The clock breathes nostalgia for those who recall the middle years of the last century when there were very few cars on Mysore’s roads and people would cycle down to the station to know the exact time.

But what of the four public clocks that held out until they started to fall out of their settings due to lack of routine maintenance. A few years ago, the top of the main entrance to the Vani Vilas Market fell, bringing the clock with it. It was not replaced. Three others disappeared soon after. One was a charming belfry clock in the old Royal Stables, sandwiched between the Zoo and the Karanji Lake. The stables were built in 1910, next to a study house for the Mysore princes. They housed the maharaja’s prized steeds, including his famous Viennese dancing horses. The Air Force occupied these premises till the 1990s and the clock was visible from the road past the Lake. Now the road is virtually unusable and the fate of the clock tower, hidden from view, unknown. The large ground in front of the stables is deserted except for the tents that sprout when the circus comes to town, which is very rarely.

Do we celebrate only those public clocks that have historical or architectural value and therefore a much longer life-span than their humbler counterparts? A homesick Rupert Brooke did not think so. Writing from Berlin in 1912, he recalled the obscure belfry clock in his village in England and asked evocatively “Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?”

Our vintage public clocks — heroic, and often unnoticed, time-keepers of the nation — may no longer be central to our hurried lives but they will always be important symbols of our collective memory.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 8:55:27 AM |

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