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Cannon's Mouth

Julius Caesar said, "In war, events of importance are the result of trivial causes." I guess in life, too, the biggest of events could result from the most innocuous of incidents. You wouldn't guess that a visit to a historical palace could trigger monumental self-realizations in a bunch of college students. We didn't. Now we know better. Eight of us packed our bags one Sunday morning and set out to reach Mysore, an important city throughout India's history situated 120 kilometers from Bangalore. Our plan was to leave early, get there early, cover maximum possible ground, and report back to base.

Things would have gone according to plan but for two oversights on our part. First, we had no idea Mysore had tourist packages that covered all the major attractions there. Second, we had no idea that those tours began 10 minutes before we'd left Bangalore.

We managed to get tickets for the second half of one such tour package on the condition that six of us would get seats in the bus, but two of us would have to make do with sitting on stools.

The first stop on our tour was the Palace of Mysore. While our driver/guide eagerly told us all he could about the palace, the eight of us agreed that all we'd heard was that the bus would stop there for half an hour and then push off.

To say that Mysore Palace is grand would be like saying that Michael Schumacher knows how to drive a car. This palace is grand with a capital G! As you enter the palace, a larger-than-life stone leopard greets you, and as you move on a little, on the far side of the lawns, you see a herd of elephants languidly munching stuff and acting royal.

The seven arches at the front of the palace highlight its expansiveness, and as you look a little higher, you see something resembling a grandstand facing the huge garden in front of it. The magnitude of the structure is enough to cast you back to the times when there must have been princes and armies inhabiting the palace. You imagine the king sitting proudly atop the palace facade and watching the army with the elephants and horses assembled for his address. You imagine yourself for a moment occupying the position of that king and beholding this titanic set-up waiting for your command. It's impossible to be there and not be mesmerized by the colossus that surrounds you.

As we moved closer to the palace, we noticed the light bulbs that lined the palace walls. We gathered from the guides that the palace was lit up every Sunday evening and on holidays. This brilliant spectacle draws plenty of visitors to Mysore.

Inside the palace, we were confronted by a series of cannons lining the railings. There's a story in Indian history that says that Mangal Pandey, an Indian in the British army who triggered India's first war for independence, marched up and put his chest to a cannon's mouth. Heaven knows why, but I decided I'd like to check out how it feels to stand defiantly in front of a cannon. It dawned on me what it must have been like standing in front of a live cannon with an enemy soldier ready to spark it. Hair-raising!

As we explored the interior rooms, we were filled with awe at the sight of the carvings on the ceilings, the opulent statues, the gilded pillars, and the magnificent chandeliers. We moved on to the kalyan mantapa, which held a structure that had been made in Scotland and brought here. Nothing made our jaw drop more than the sight of the howdah that had 80 kilograms of gold decorating it!

But every silver lining has a dark cloud. As we listened more keenly to the guides narrating the palace's history, it dawned on us that the original palace had burned down in 1897, and this new one had been erected to replace it.

1897. It was a time when India was under colonial rule and there were upheavals occurring across the country. It was a time when India had kings who would fight the British and others who were puppets at the hands of the Raj, fed by crumbs thrown at them from abroad. The ruler of Mysore belonged to the latter.

Suddenly, it all meant nothing. Not to me. Not to any of us. The gold around us lost its luster. The palace that had held us in awe no longer was anything more than sand, brick, and metal.

Shakespeare's "gilded tombs do worms infold" had never been truer. All we wanted to do was get out of it.

We'd surprised ourselves. None of us had any idea we had even a fraction of the amount of patriotism we'd felt that day. Something just happened that made us feel we barely knew ourselves. Like they say, you never know...until you know.


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