Beacon of Romance

The Ediya Hill in the elevated heart of the city of Mangalore, better known as the Light House Hill, is perhaps the most well-known and imposing of its landmarks, which also commands a breath taking view of the Arabian sea. During my childhood, this view included a myriad of twinkling lights from the ships anchored off-shore if it were not the monsoons, and a green velvet of treetops that carpeted the stretch from the hill to the surf of the roaring waters.

The lighthouse which played an important role in the lives of some of us who grew up in Mangalore did not stand high. High enough not to be missed from the sea, but absolutely dwarfed by the tower of the century-old edifice on the same hill - Saint Aloysius' College, my alma mater for the first twelve formative years. On most of this hill stood the St. Aloysius' campus, a product of the Italian jesuits, with very little else barring the park around the lighthouse and the Idgah on the ground opposite.

The park sported a terraced garden with flowers slanting in the breeze, and a sand-pit that was taboo - one among the many taboos we grew up with - because of the urchins frequenting it. I had to spend a couple of hours in front of the altar on my knees with arms stretched skywards, as punishment for having strayed into the pit once, lured there by a none too caring cousin.

The Idgah, the elders said, was built by Tipu Sultan's armies from the very stones of Rosario Cathedral and Milagres Church down the hill opposite Hampankatta - which they knocked down as punishment to the Mangalorean Catholics for their suspected British leanings, soon after Tippu lost his first battle of Mangalore.

Where the park ends and before the manorial Chateau-de-Lou of the Lobo-Prabhus, is the delightful property of the Peres-Bhats that uncle Gilbert bought on doctor's orders, to construct "Summer Delight", a house with a constant supply of sea breeze for my chronic asthma ridden aunt Winnie to breathe in.

Across the road from Summer Delight and the park, just where the road starts to dip on its decent down to Hampankatta, is the Ladies' club frequented by the wived of the elite" Who's' among the Mangalorean Catholics - then the centre for all activities. Among them was the annual New Year's Eve Ball that the ladies organised, and all in the community looked forward to.

To this club, yours truly had returned in 1971, after an initial bout of institutional police training, on my first holiday back to hometown. And had got roped in to play Santa Claus at the Ball. The fertile Mangalorean brains had thought up a new one. To give Santa a royal send off on New Year's eve, while burning out the traditional Old Man of straw and crackers, and welcoming in the new born babe of the New year.

The carrot they dangled before me to make me accept the role was the promise of the dance with the girl of my choice, Santa's choice. Santa obliged-extracted his pound of flesh and got the girl of his choice, literally.

For he got swept off his own feet during the dance, lost his heart to him chosen one, to propose to her then and there. To eventually unite in matrimony, with nuptials at Milagres and wedding reception, Yes, at the same Ladies'club. All that lighthouse hill in Mangalore. Under its beacon of romance.

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