A Bengalurean often lives in two distinct cities: a Bangalore of their memories and the Bengaluru of the present. The beauty of this city is often lost and found in its constantly changing exterior — the pace is so rapid that the chances of your memory of the space matching up to the external reality are pretty slim.
And if you know someone who has lived here long enough, you invariably become a listening post to their nostalgic trip down memory lane.
So when Bengaluru Traffic Police (BTP) announced on Thursday that ‘Meesey’ Thimmaiah would be its official mascot, Bengaluru sighed in collective nostalgia for an uncomplicated time.
— BTP (@blrcitytraffic) June 7, 2017
In August 1995, Meesey Thimmaiah was on his usual duty at General Post Office (GPO) Circle near Vidhana Soudha when he was killed on duty. He gave his life trying to rescue a woman and her child from a speeding tempo, which had ignored his signal to stop. A policeman popular with kids and adults alike, he was not unknown to anyone who would pass through the area. As the tweets and comments on Facebook in response to the announcement indicate, he remains a beloved figure in the city.
The prefix ‘Meesey‘ attached to Thimmaiah’s name referred to his ornate moustache. As his wife G. Lakshamma fondly remembers, he loved his mustache and took great care of it. The couple from Tumakuru married in 1978, a year after Thimmaiah joined the force.
“My husband always had a thing for big moustaches. In 1985, he started to grow his own moustache. Soon, people were calling him Meesey Thimmaiah. He loved it, and oiled and combed it everyday. The Police department even gave him an annual allowance of Rs 500 for it,” said Lakshamma in an interview to Deccan Chronicle last year.
But the man was more than his meesey.
He was known for his choreographed traffic management, which functioned like a clock-work. When he passed away in the line of duty, the whole city fell into a shock and mourned with his family –he had three young children, the oldest being just 13 and the youngest, 7 at the time.
This is where the story turns into a testament to the power of community. It was a time when there was no social media. There was no hashtag RIP to mourn the beloved cop who had died doing his duty, trying to save his fellow human beings. The daily newspapers responded to this unjust death by carrying Thimmaiah and his glorious meesey‘s photo on the front page — a rare honor reserved for politicians and celebrities. But Thimmaiah was a celebrity in his own right. People’s indignation was palpable.
But how do you express it when you have no outlet?
By writing letters to the newspapers.
Daily newspapers have a tradition of inviting letters from the readers, which would be published in a column titled ‘Letters to the Editor’. By reading these letters, you could gauge what kind of people the newspapers’ reader base comprised of. Kannada newspapers’ Vaachakara Vani (Voice of the Readers) would be read and discussed in homes and darshini hotels alike, with much gusto. Few people crowded over a single newspaper is what viral news looked like in those days.
It began with the students of Asian College of Journalism (when it was in Bengaluru), who were asked how they would respond to Thimmaiah’s death. They said they would write letters to the editor. And write they did! Some expressed their sorrow, some their anger and some even put forward recommendations to honor Thimmaiah’s legacy through these letters. Soon, one letter became many. People started sending hundreds and thousands of letters. For almost a month, the letters came in without respite. This forced then Chief Minister H.D. Devegowda to visit Thimmaiah’s wife and offer land and a job.
Thanks to the pressure built up by the community, Meesey Thimmaiah was posthumously awarded a Gold Medal from the State Government. Additionally, the GPO circle was renamed Police Thimmaiah circle in honor of his memory. All because of a few thousand letters.
Today, the Bengaluru Traffic Police has a considerable amount of fan following on social media. The announcement of Thimmaiah’s ascent to the mascot-ship comes at a time when the power of social media has reached its zenith. The way in which Thimmaiah’s legacy was cemented in Bengaluru will always remind us of its positive potential.