Sunday 19 January 2014

When the King of Nonsense visited Lalbagh

Lalbagh is called by many names and one among them is Kew of India.
This name was given by Edward Lear (1812-1888) in 1874. Lear was an English artist, illustrator, author and poet. Today, he is known mostly for his “literary nonsense”  in poetry and prose and especially his limericks, a form he popularised.
He came to India in 1874 during which he visited Bangalore. He came to Lalbagh in a dog cart and was stunned by its beauty, variety of  plants and shrubs.
By then, the management of Lalbagh had passed from the hands of the British to the Mysore Maharaja or the Wodeyars. While the British kept Cantonment, they handed over the botanical garden laid out by Hyder and Tipu to the Wodeyars.  
The Garden of Waugh, as it was known a few decades earlier and the Cypress and Rose Gardens much earlier, had acquired the name of Lalbagh.
Lear had a particular reason for visiting Lalbagh. His principal areas of work as an artist were threefold: as a draughtsman employed to illustrate birds and animals; making coloured drawings during his journeys, which he reworked later, sometimes as plates for his travel books; and thirdly as a illustrator of English poet Alfred Tennyson’s poems.
As an author, Lear is known principally for his popular nonsense works, which use real and invented English words.  He wrote his nonsense song, “The Cummerbund”,  while sheltering from the monsoon in India.
However, his description of Lalbagh as Kew was more real than imagined and definitely not “nonsense” he wrote about the delightful time he spent in the gardens.
Lear was born into a middle-class family in Holloway, a small village near London. He was the 20th of the 21st children of Ann Clark Skerrett and Jeremiah Lear.
Lear began drawing by the time he was 16 and he soon developed into a serious “ornithological draughtsman” employed by the  Zoological Society.
He arrived in Bombay on November 22, 1873 after a 27-day voyage from Naples. It was his first in India and it would be the last expedition of his life.
This was between 1873 and 1875 and while travelling he produced large quantities of coloured wash drawings.
He had come to India as a guest of Evelyn Baring, the Personal Secretary, of the Viceroy of India, Lord Northbrook.
He came to Bangalore in mid August of 1874 by rail and was stunned on seeing the Lalbagh. “Never saw a more beautiful place”, he wrote and called it the “Kew of India”.
Since Lalbagh had always been a repository of exotic plants and shrubs from the times of Hyder and Tipu, the epithet by Lear appears to be more than appropriate. He himself acknowledges that he  “went in a dog cart to Lalbagh ….never saw a more beautiful place, terraces, trellises.”
Lear found “a sort of homely quiet pervades everything” in Bangalore.  
 Lear was one of the first English writers to use Limericks and literary nonsense and helped to make them popular. He travelled in Italy for three years and published two books of illustrations. At one point, Lear taught Queen Victoria how to draw. He, however, had to bow out of Victoria’s presence as he did not know the proper way to behave with her and this led to awkward incidents. Lear painted all his life upto his death.
His writing and sketches of India reflect his nature and his amazement at the variety that India was. But even then, the rigors of Indian roads or rather the lack of it left him exhausted, leaving him to lament,  “O! Hateful Indian travel.”

It was Bangalore and Lalbagh that gave him back his spirit and made his day. This is how the “King of Nonsense” viewed Lalbagh.

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