Introduction to First Annual Lecture of the Nandi Valley Walks Heritage Lecture Series, November 2016

[We recently organised and conducted — on 12th November 2016 — the maiden lecture in this Lecture Series which we are hoping to institutionalise.  This first in a Series that we hope will gain traction over the years, was delivered by Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, M.B.E.  My introduction to the address is below — we even published the lecture in a booklet form.]

A few months ago a chance purchase of her book at the airport bookshop in New Delhi brought me to Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones.  Her book on Wajid Ali Shah (“The Last King in India”, Random House, 2014) was a gripping read which I devoured in a few days.  Two things caught my attention — firstly, the blurb mentioned Rosie’s association with the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA); and, secondly, she had devoted a couple of pages in her book to the descendants of Tipu Sultan in Calcutta and how, in particular, the life of Ghulam Mohammed Sultan Sahib, the 14th son exiled to Calcutta, overlapped with the life of the banished Wajid Ali Shah in the same city.
Dr. Llewellyn-Jones was extremely graceful and communicative when I reached out to her (and through her, BACSA) for their guidance and assistance in helping a few of us locals in Nandi Hills restore the abandoned British Cemetery in Sultanpet in the foothills of Nandi Hills.  With Rosie’s support and inputs, and that of her several ever-helpful and magnanimous colleagues, I can confidently say that the plan to secure, preserve and promote this unique, albeit forlorn and long neglected local historical site, has gathered pace and we hope the conserved cemetery will become a destination for tourists and locals alike in the area.  The heritage walking tour company my wife, Priya Rao and I run, showcases this abandoned cemetery in the course of our history story telling.
But, it was when I reached out to Rosie to ask if she could deliver a keynote address or come to Bangalore to speak on historical subjects that are within her domain, that her enthusiasm and forthrightness was most visible.
Priya and I took a considered, life changing decision in late 2013 to move out of the chaos of Bangalore’s inner residential areas where we were based, to live in the sylvan surroundings of the foothills of Nandi Hills; where today’s lecture is happening.  And then in 2014, we founded “Nandi Valley Walks” as a local historical walking tour company to package heritage walking trails in the area, covering the renowned Bhoganandishwara temple (a national monument of over a 1000 years vintage); the battles between Tipu and Cornwallis during the 3rd Anglo-Mysore War; the story of our railways most poignantly seen in the century old Nandi Halt train station; the simple yet elegant home and museum to that famous son of this land, Sir. M. Visvesvaraya at Muddenhalli; and serval more sites and sights.
The highlight for us in this journey of discovery of our heritage and history (in its microcosm; ignoring for a moment, the larger perspectives and canvas) is today’s maiden, inaugural lecture.  We are hopeful of institutionalising this initiative as a series of lectures, whether annual or occasional, where we wish to invite and bring down to the area, eminent historians and other thinkers to delineate for us and then discuss subtle issues relevant to our shared heritage and history, ideally with a local or focussed flavour.
And, we could not have wished for a more erudite scholar to launch our lecture series than Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, whom we heartily welcome with our hospitality, thanking her especially for making that detour to visit Bangalore between Lucknow and Calcutta.  She will be addressing us on an esoteric topic and intriguing subject, and I will not keep you too long from her session; except to say that the ghost of Tipu and the late Sultan’s personality (regardless of your perspective on the man) is certainly covered in her address today, something that goes back to the time (and her book) when I first contacted Rosie to invite her today.
We wish to place on record our deep and abiding gratitude to QVC Realty Co for their support of this event by taking care of the venue arrangements here today and, of course, for the scrumptious lunch to follow.
We hope you enjoy this address.
Siddharth Raja and Priya Rao
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