Legend in the family has it that my great grandfather actually had to swim across the lake to reach his property on the south bank of the tank, when he bought it in the 30s. The surrounding areas, once a fruit orchard of the Maharaja, was eventually replaced by a residential layout, that has developed its own charm over the years. The lake sees more vistors today than ever before, with its big new joggers park and pretty but rather bland landscaping.
In the 60s and 70s, lines of donkeys bearing laundry lined the bund, and the slap-slap of clothes being smacked mercilessly against the bund wall would ring clear across the lake's surface all the way into my great grandfather's dining room. The less-than dulcet tones of novice nadaswaram players practicing at the crack of dawn on the lake's edge greatly assisted in curdling the milk in my great-grandmother's kitchen. Strangely though, the lake was never really batheable. My rebellious mumsy once dived into the lake for a swim in the 60s to disprove this. She went down with typhoid instantly after.
The 80s rolled in, the donkeys disappeared and were replaced by love-birds of all kinds dotting the bamboo clumps on the lake's edge. A sight that we were well shielded from as kids by our protective grandparents. We would spend all our summer holiday afternoons poking around on the banks, trying hopelessly to catch fish to put in my great-grandfather's tank. A search party was once sent out for me when I had fallen asleep in the bullrushes while playing hide and seek with my brother and our cousins. Hey, it was a comfortable hiding place!
I also remember a time when my aunt stooped down planted a big kiss on my head for pulling her out of knee deep slush when we were looking for crabs as kids. She told my grandmother that I came and rescued her from deathly quicksand with my big muscles. I was 3 feet tall and weighed about 20kg then. I would valiantly assist all manner of people across doorsteps and imaginary dents in the ground for weeks after!
Thanks to BTS (now BMTC)'s dubious reputation for being Bekaada Timealli Sigolla (Never there when you want it), the best bet was to trudge across to Malleswaram 18th cross bus stand to catch a bus to college. My joy knew no bounds when I discovered a secret path on the west side of the lake that I needed to jump across a culvert and several lake inlets to negotiate, to get me there faster. The ethereal morning mist would send white wisps out to the beautiful grassy knolls on the lake's edge for me to catch. Kingfishers would pierce the glassy surface of the water at bullet speed, and emerge with their breakfasts moments after. Water snakes would scuttle away into deeper water the moment they sensed me coming. Man, those mornings!
I'd even made friends with the forest department gardeners, who'd actually time their day with my comings and goings. On my way back from college, they'd say "Swami bandawre. 4:30 aiyth kanrroiyy". There was a secret nook where black magicians would fling vermillion and turmeric at bizarre looking clay effigies by the water's edge. When they saw me slink by trying to look as unobtrusive as possible, they'd laugh loudly, blowing powders in my direction as I passed. I never had the courage to go look at the idols more closely when they were not around though.
When the boat club opened in the mid 90s, the family would dutifully take all visitors out for an obligatory boat ride on the lake. OK lets face it, the lake's pretty and all, but its not really large enough for a scenic boat ride or anything. I still remember an aunt muttering to herself as she got off the boat after a 15 minute circle around the lake: "Ippadi kodakku kodakku nnu poi enna sugaththa kandon?" (What pleasure did we get by rattling around kodakku-kodakku like this?)
The late 90s saw a few bizarre instances of mass fish-suicides. All of us were certain that the water was poisoned, until the fisheries department discovered that the fish had overbred and died of oxygen starvation. Needless to say, the hundreds of cormorants, dabchicks, kingfishers, snakebirds and kites that lived around, had month long foodfests whenever that happened.
The lake, which would earlier dry out partially in the summer, now brims over with water all year round, thanks to the successful efforts of local residents to unblock the water inlets. Bangalore's recently aquired heavy monsoon pattern, and a Lok Ayukta's decision to raise the spillover weir by two feet have in fact caused it to flood heavily of late. The monsoon of 2005 completely washed away the recently completed 4 crore BMP landscaping, and submerged large parts of greatgramps' garden.
The jogging track is back now, bigger and higher than before. The old trees that perished due to water logging are now replaced by promising looking saplings. The wild serenity of the west bank is gone forever, replaced by a vast tract of landscaping that is no longer mine alone to enjoy :(
The Sankey Tank has metamorphosized dramatically over the hundred-odd years of its existence: from an almost-forgotten failed project, into a charming and much needed oasis of calm in bustling Bangytown. It still serves to ease the lives of thousands of people around, albeit in a completley different manner from what was intended.
The two most beautiful things about the lake however, are what nobody can ever change: The glorious sight of a full moon shimmering over its placid surface, and most importantly, The warm fuzzy feeling of finally being home!