Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hesaraghatta Lake.

Hesaraghatta lake.  The end of the pilgrimage. This is where my father had the heart attack that killed him on the 15th of March, 1953.

We had hired a car and driver to bring us here.  Over an hour to come approximately 30km through city and traffic, finally through villages and down a narrow road to a low earth dam. We climbed the dam up stone steps and looked across a very beautiful landscape.  Built in 1894 to provide water for the city of Bangalore, the lake used to cover over 1000 acres.  Now silted up and with less water, the lake is much smaller and the water level is well down the wall of the dam.  Grass grows down the water's edge. 

A few sheep and cattle graze, tended by herders.  A few children and men fish off the dam.  A few houses, but the area is wide open and without many people.  It is easy to imagine what it was like in the 1950’s as the air is clear, and we can see for miles.

A beautiful sailing breeze, warm and strong blows in our faces.   A Braminy kite soars in the updraft where the breeze hits the dam, swooping from side to side in wide arcs, then plunges like a stone towards the lake.  We had been sighting these beautiful birds, brown wings with dark tips, white heads and throats, ever since the backwaters of Kerala.  Now it felt like the spirit of my father had been following our journey and now exulted in showing us where he lived. 

I could see the large lake as it was - small boats with white sails racing on a Sunday.  Tacking upwind, rounding the buoys, and sailing downwind. Heeling over with the wind and skimming over the water, which I imagine as blue.  Gin and tonics waiting on the club deck. A whole world away from the teaming, frenetic cities of India.  Life must have felt perfect for my parents. 

And then the heart attack.  Loss of breath, acute pain and helplessness.  My mother staring in disbelief, unable to help, followed by panic.  The tiller released, the boat swings  downwind.  The sheet s released. The sails flapping.  Aware that something terrible has happened, my mother has to push my father aside, grab the tiller and sheets to bring the boat under control and sail back to shore.  And all that time, my father was dying before her eyes.  A doctor, even if there was one present, could not help.  Into a car and the long, long slow drive back to town. 
Death confirmed at 49 and my family’s life shattered. I choke up.  The view stretches forever. 

Writing this, three days after visiting Hasanagatta, on the train to Delhi, it is still very hard to record my feelings.  My eyes well up and I cannot see the keyboard.  I look out the window, so people can’t see me as I try to recover...Wendy hands me half a banana, I take it quickly and look away again.  I have to stop repeatedly to blink and rub my eyes clear. Seems strange that I feel so overwhelmed by a loss I had failed to understand so long ago.  A father that I last knew when I was Ieft in the care of an aunt in England in 1949.  I don’t remember feeling this strongly back then.  My aunt came to the school to tell me of his death and I felt bewildered when told.  “Have a cup of tea,” she said, “it always helps” And it did.  I think I may have been more happy for the week I was given off school, than sad at my loss. Now I break up easily and have to struggle repeatedly to pull myself together.


  1. Dear Richard......so poignant! It is good that you made the pilgrimage. Obviously it was more important than you ever imagined. E.

  2. Thank you Richard for sharing your feelings so poignantly. Wishing you a light heart to follow your sadness.e.