Gateway to south Bangalore

It not only gave Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR) its name but also served as the gateway to the southern end of the city, once upon a time. A tiny part of the present-day V.V. Puram municipal constituency, Mavalli is an area that is deemed to be older than the city itself.

“Lalbagh Fort Road, Krumbigal Road and Rashtriya Vidyalaya (R.V.) Road combine to form a triangle that we call Mavalli. Years ago, this area was lined with plenty of mango trees. Mangoes from here were exported to the north of the country. So what was once known as Mavinahalli (‘mango village’), slowly came to be called Mavalli in common parlance,” said Lakshmipathy Mavalli, who has written Namma Mavalli , a book that captures the history and essence of this tiny area.

Lakshmipathy has spent all his life in Mavalli and the book he says, is his personal tribute to an area that has given him his identity.

Horticultural centre

Sitting on a bench under a tree in Lalbagh, Lakshmipathy, along with two other old residents of the area, Somashekhar and Krishnamurthy, described the Mavalli of the past.

“Mavalli and the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens have been neighbours for years. Back then, the garden wasn’t as fortified as it is now. So the lack of a wall made it easy for children to enter the garden and play cricket here. My elder brothers used to come here all the time with their friends to play,” recounted Lakshmipathy. “And when the first walls came up around the garden, they were just about four feet tall. So we would climb on each other’s backs and jump over it,” added Krishnamurthy.

Mavalli was also home to some of the oldest nurseries in the city that supplied seeds and plants to the botanical garden. “The oldest among them were Obalappa and Sons. Then there were Ramaiah and Sons, and Devappa and Sons. The Hulkul family was also famous for supplying horticultural products to the gardens. But today, there is no sign of any nursery around here. They have all moved to the other side of Lalbagh, to Siddapura. And the owners of the old nurseries have sold their land and moved elsewhere,” said Lakshmipathy.

The pious one

Much has changed around Mavalli making the area that used to be a corner of the city, a part of what has now become an extension of the city-centre.

With this change, residents feel that the locality has become more crowded and commercialised.

Despite that, Mavalli, Lakshmipathy says, has retained one thread of its history — the pious one. Almost every street has a temple at the end of it. Be it the Banashankari or the Eeshwara temples, through each of these, the residents of Mavalli attempt to keep their devout past alive.

“The most important temple in this area is the Bisilu Maramma devasthana. An 800-year-old peepal tree is the hallmark of this temple. Devotees are allowed to offer their prayers and decorate the idol here next to the tree,” described Krishnamurthy.

“There is a Ugadi jatre (religious procession) that happens here every year. But apart from that, once in three years, the ‘grama devata jatre’ is conducted. This is an important ceremony where after the puja is completed, the devotees invite people to their homes and serve a delicious meal cooked with mutton,” said Lakshmipathy.

Change not permitted

An institution that has survived the test of time by rigidly sticking to a tradition, just like the temples, is the Mavalli Tiffin Room.

There is a sense of pride among the residents of Mavalli when they talk of MTR.

And why not? On Sundays, people spill over to the roads waiting for their turn at MTR. The reason for this, as one of the managing partners describes it, is because they have stuck to tradition. “Frankly, we don’t have a choice in this matter. For example, we once changed our coffee cups. As soon as our customers had coffee in the new cups, they came complaining to us saying that the coffee does not taste the same because of the new cup. We’ll have to face the ire of our customers if we change anything around here,” said Hemamalini Maiya, managing partner, MTR.

Room for food

Belonging to the third generation of the family that owns and runs MTR, Hemamalini recounts stories she heard from her granduncle Yagnanarayana Maiya and grandfather about the restaurant.

“If you see the structure of the restaurant, it is divided into these tiny rooms. For example, there is one where only the families sit, and then there is a section where only the men sit. So that is how the concept of the ‘tiffin room’ came about,” she described. “There is a picture of Hanuman in our coffee room. It was considered auspicious to do a namaskar in front of the picture and then leave for the day’s business. Customers, even to this day, continue to do that. The coffee room is the venue where many business deals are made.”

Tied to the neighbourhood

But why set up the restaurant in Mavalli? “Lalbagh, back then, used to be the most attractive destination to set up new ventures like these. There was nothing around MTR when we first set up our restaurant here. The area was a nice place to be in. There was car service then, and some of the few rich families used to drive in here. And there used to be five lakes around here, out of which only one is remaining,” she explained.

The relationship of MTR with its locality is evident in this other snippet that Hemamalini narrated: “My granduncle was an innovator. He once made this sweet that resembled a French pastry. When he made the sweet, he did not know what to name it. At that time, Minerva theatre was playing this movie which was titled Chandrahara . He named the sweet after that movie and even to this day we continue to serve it only on Sunday; it is a huge favourite with our customers.”

Archana Nathan

Mavalli used to be home to plenty of mango trees,

hence the name Mavinahalli or ‘mango village’