It was well past midnight when a group of armed men in uniform stormed into our guest house. They rifled through the room with urgency, checked our IDs and left before we could even react.
Click here to view a slideshow on Agumbe village in Karnataka where the famous television serial ‘Malgudi Days’ was shot 25 years ago.
This is Agumbe, the sleepy little village where one of Indian television’s iconic serials, Malgudi Days, based on the book by R.K. Narayan, was shot 25 years ago. Today, locals and visitors live in a cloud of suspected Naxalite operations because of the thick forests that surround the village.
The village may be famed for being “the King Cobra Capital of the world” (its surrounding areas have the highest density of King Cobras in the world) or being the “Cherrapunji of south India” because of the amount of rainfall it receives, but all these years later, a walking tour still reveals a village deeply entrenched in memories of its glory days.
Narayan’s book had 19 stories, all set in the fictional town of Malgudi, with a 10-year-old called Swami as the central character. In 1986, actor and director Shankar Nag translated them for television and 39 episodes were telecast on Doordarshan.
Thirty-five-year-old P.K. Gautham Mallya’s room has a lifesize poster of Nag and numerous toy carts reminiscent of the carts in the serial. Mallya, who played one of Swami’s friends as a 10-year-old, reminisces: “We were all so happy when Shankar Nag and his team were here. The village was full of life and every day was like a celebration.” He looks away before continuing, “He still lives with us, and we all wish that somebody like him returned to revive those days.”
A majority of the youngsters have left the village for jobs in the city. The statue of Sir Frederick Lawley, which used to stand tall at the centre of the village in the serial, now leans, broken, against a tree near the old school (where extensive parts of the serial were shot).
As I roam around Agumbe to chat with characters who were connected with the serial’s production, I chance upon Ashok and Hameed, two friends who have grown up together and who played schoolchildren in the serial between 1984 and 1986. They now ferry travellers around the sunset points and waterfalls that surround Agumbe. At first, they try their best to convince me to go for sightseeing tours. But when I tell them what I’m looking for, they exchange childlike grins before taking me to Panduranga Pandit’s tea shop, where we settle down over piping hot cups. They go into nostalgia overdrive almost immediately, sharing stories, punctuated by their insistence that Agumbe should be rechristened Malgudi.