You’ve kept these for all these years?” Patrick Taylor, 63, asks the secretary of the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) Club as he walks by a wall of framed photographs of all the partners and officers of John Taylor and Sons, the British firm that ran the gold mines in KGF for 72 years from 1884. London-based Taylor is the great grandson of John Taylor, who started the systematic mining of gold in the area, and the son of Arthur Taylor, who was in charge of the mines when they were handed over to the government of India in 1956.
“That’s my uncle,” he mumbles over his shoulder to his wife Heather, who has joined him on this trip to KGF, 100km from Bangalore. That era is a beautiful blur in Taylor’s mind—the family left the town when he was 8.
The town is today dotted with colonial bungalows and canopy trees. Ever so often, one may chance upon mineshafts that were its bread and butter for more than a century.
New coat: The Kolar Gold Fields Club’s façade may have been painted recently but its interiors bring the past alive. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Joseph Susainathan, 87, who served as caretaker and bartender at the KGF Club for 40 years, volunteers nuggets of information from “those times” as Taylor identifies the men on the wall. “If you ever decide to sell these, you know whom to call,” Taylor tells Nathan S., the current secretary of the club.
It all began when Taylor’s elder sister Anthea visited India five years ago. “She gave me this book on KGF. I read it and my itch to come to India intensified,” says Taylor, referring to the book written by a former KGF resident, Bridget White Kumar, titled Kolar Gold Fields—Down Memory Lane. The book, published in 2009, talks about the history of KGF and then goes on to Kumar’s personal account of her life in the town, the culture and the people who made KGF. “I have many happy memories of my early life in India, and for me this will definitely be a trip down memory lane. It will be greatly enhanced if I can have the benefit of learning from your knowledge of the place that was the foundation of my life,” Taylor wrote in a letter to Kumar, asking if she would join him on a tour of KGF. She obliged.
“He always talked about it, but life just never allowed us to visit,” says Heather.
Treading away from the family trade of mining, Patrick studied to be a chartered accountant and worked as one for several years before moving to radio and publishing mid-career.
Driving through KGF, Patrick has the occasional flash of recognition. “You’ll have to pardon me for not remembering too much,” he says, almost apologetic about the immense attention he is getting.
Black and white era: (from top) Patrick Taylor at the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) Club; looking at photographs of his family and officers who worked at the KGF with Joseph Susainathan (in pink shirt); and the KGF Club was set up 1885. Photographs by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Once called “Little England”, KGF is now a ghost of its former self, its prosperity a distant memory. After the government took over the mines in 1956, it tried to run them for the next 45 years—it even formed the Bharat Gold Mines Ltd (BGML), a public sector unit, in 1972 for this. But recurring losses forced closure in 2001. Today, employment is scarce in this area: Over 10,000 men and women travel every day to Bangalore in the jam-packed Swarna Express, the world’s longest passenger train, for work. Repeated talk of reviving the mines brings hope to the residents.
“My father was proud of what the family had done here in India. While I firmly believe that every country should run itself, on coming back here, I do feel a certain amount of sadness on seeing this town fading away,” says Taylor, driving by mineshafts that are now locked and closed to the public.
KGF was the first in the country to get electricity almost 110 years ago; it is said to have been one of the first towns to get cemented roads. Several colonial bungalows remain, as do the skeletons of the mineshafts.
Susainathan, or Susai as his British bosses called him, is at home in the club. “I used to make the best cocktails, I still can,” says Susainathan, his eyes gleaming at the thought of evenings of cocktails and dances.
He remembers Taylor. “I went over to his house when his parents hosted evening parties, and once had fallen sick from eating too many cherries,” Susainathan tells a surprised Taylor. Dressed for the occasion in formal pants and a shirt with a tie and tiepin, Susainathan is adhering to the dress code that was in force when the “dorais” (superiors in Tamil) spent evenings there. Nathan butts in, “When we were young he used to shoo us away if we tried to come into the club.”
“Children were not allowed,” Susainathan clarifies.
The club’s façade may have been painted recently but its interiors, with the wooden flooring and trophies of wild animals from game hunts lining the wall, bring the past alive. Visitors may walk through, but the facilities at the club, which has a 12-hole golf course, can be used only by members.
Taylor’s first home in KGF is today a convent. He points out his bedroom, the mango tree outside and the road where he waited for a school bus. “I recall a few incidents, like the time I ran my hand through a glass window and cut it,” he says, holding his arm out to show us the scar. His family moved to a new bungalow in 1952. Today, it is in bad shape, home to a barely functioning BGML office. “I have several photographs of the house that is now the convent, but none from this house,” says Taylor after a brief walk-through. “There is so much more to see, which means I have to come back soon,” he says before leaving.