Once we went around in Circles

About 30 years ago, one of my colleagues was transferred to Calcutta. A year later he came to his hometown on a holiday and it was shocking to hear his experience about the notorious traffic jams of Calcutta. Sitting in the peaceful and slow city of Bangalore we could not envisage those serious traffic jams. But then, we had no clue that we would be experiencing such jams right here very soon!

One beautiful avenue still left untouched! This was how most of the roads looked sometime ago.

Pictures of a beautiful bungalow from different angle Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar.

When I used to go to work on MG Road then, I used to leave home (Yelahanka Satellite Town) at 8.30 A.M. and reach my office traveling by two buses, by 9.50 A.M. Never in my service had I reached my office late. But today, if I have to reach some place in the city at 10 A.M., I have to leave home at 7.30 and still, I am not sure I will be on time!

The main reason is of course the burgeoning number of people and vehicles on the road. Nobody dreamt that Bangalore would attract the attention of the world and turn into an IT city. Since the nineties, Bangalore started growing at an exponential rate and the planners could not keep pace with the growth. The lazy and dreamy city suddenly got a jolt and the infrastructure just could not meet the needs of the increasing population.

In the melee, the face of the city started changing, and the new Bangalore of traffic jams, mounds of garbage, barren roads in place of beautiful avenues, huge multi-storied buildings in place of lovely old bungalows and colonial mansions, messy residential layouts in place of lovely lakes and fields, concrete jungle in place of beautiful gardens and pollution and noise in place of peace and serenity seems to be here to stay.

The vanishing Circles

The naked Mekhri Circle, where once a beautiful Circle existed.

The naked Mekhri Circle, where once a beautiful Circle existed. Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar.

The first victim of growth was the ‘Circle’. Bangalore was a city of Circles. Every junction where four to seven roads met had huge Circles in the centre and traffic would automatically go round these circles. Every Circle had lovely gardens and a tall lamp-post. “I still remember the Malleshwaram Circle with a tall lamp-post with five lights in the centre and a lovely flower bed around it” says Gopal, the tailor, who has been running his business for the last 65 years just near the Circle.

That was the contribution of the Maharaja’s golden period. He has no complaints, though, but still misses the serene, pollution-free and heavenly atmosphere with huge trees giving AC effect all the 24 hours. “But today, after all the trees have been removed, my shop has become a furnace and I cannot stay here without a fan. There is so much of pollution from the thousands of vehicles passing by every day” adds Gopal.

“Traffic was better controlled by a Circle. Now-a-days, traffic jams and accidents at junctions have increased. This place has become a mess after the grade separators have been constructed”, says Bhasker, a paan-beeda vendor on the same road.

No less than Switzerland- A lovely little Circle in Malleshwaram residential locality

No less than Switzerland – a lovely little circle in Malleswaram residential locality. Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar.

I went around the city to capture pictures of a few Circles that are still remaining and was shocked to realise the number of beautiful Circles that have been replaced with signal lights, traffic islands and grade separators – Mekhri Circle, Bhashyam Circle-Sadashivnagar, Malleshwaram Circle, Hudson Circle, Richmond Circle, Corporation Circle, Ananda Rao Circle, Bhashyam Circle, Rajajinagar, Magadi Road Circle and so many more!

In our busy routine life, we did not even realize their exit. I reached Madhava Rao Circle and it was a pleasure seeing it silently regulating the traffic, with a lovely garden feasting my eyes. Then I went to Arumugam circle, which was serving the purpose of a playground for children. Many Circles like Natkalappa Circle and Sajjan Rao Circle have temples in them.

According to Arun of the famed Vidyarthi Bhavan hotel at Gandhi Bazaar, the removal of the Vani Vilas Circle at the National College junction was a blunder. The place had never seen traffic jams before, but the BBMP ignored local protests and went ahead with its flyover project. “Today, that place has become a mess”, says Arun.

Another section of Bellary Road in front of the Agricultural College, where huge trees protected the entire road from the heat of the sun, today standing denuded.

Another section of Bellary Road in front of the Agricultural College, where huge trees protected the entire road from the heat of the sun, today standing denuded. Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar.

Sridhar, an auto driver, however feels that grade separators work much better at Mekhri Circle, as the earlier Circle would have been inadequate to regulate today’s volume of traffic. Ashok of the Petrol Bunk at Bhashyam Circle feels they did a much better job of regulating traffic, though. “Accidents caused by vehicles jumping signals have now become common. Pedestrians find it very difficult to cross these roads safely” he says.

Praveen Sood, ACP Traffic, disagrees. “A detailed study of traffic engineering will throw light on the evolution of the Circles to today’s grade separators and how this is the best option”, he says. As a traffic specialist his comments may be right. But as a citizen of this city for the last 50 years, I miss so many things that have given way to the new, among which Circles occupy a prominent place. Old is always gold.

Bungalows out, apartments in

Another major change is the replacement of sprawling bungalows with huge apartment complexes. Having lived in Malleshwaram for a long time, I feel very sad to see huge and ugly apartment complexes in place of old bungalows. In a place where just a family of ten to fifteen members lived, around fifty to two hundred families now reside in apartments. These bungalows were hidden inside a huge garden of rare flora and fauna. We were greeted by the chirps of thousands of birds morning and evening, and enjoyed the golden dusk playing hide and seek with the lush green trees. Children could even play cricket or football inside their own compounds but today, they have to satisfy their sports needs by clicking the mouse of the computer!

Pictures of a beautiful bungalow from different angle

Pictures of a beautiful bungalow from different angle Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar.

This change has led to many problems. The roads which served a few hundreds of vehicles today have to serve thousands of vehicles, as almost every family owns a minimum of two vehicles, one of them being a four-wheeler. Thus all beautiful avenues with their tree canopies are slowly being turned into barren broad roads.
With thousands of trees being felled, the city which did not require even a fan, today requires ACs. All residential localities suffer water shortage. Sanitation and sewerage have become major problems. Huge mounds of garbage get collected in front of every apartment complex. Pollution has increased so much that so many pollution-related health problems have increased in the city.

I went around the city to click pictures of a few bungalows and found a beautiful old one still standing. This family apparently protected every tree, every little plant and every little shrub in its Eden garden. When every other bungalow was being brought down by builders, they had held out. “We love our house and our garden. We will not give up this property for any price”, said the possessive landlady.

Another friend of mine buckled under the pressure of the younger generation, who could not understand sentiments but only saw the money behind the property. Hundreds of such mansions in Basavangudi, Malleshwaram, Frazer Town, Cox Town and other old localities have been demolished and huge apartment complexes or commercial buildings have been built.

Thus a beautiful garden city today is being ransacked from all sides by land sharks, timber mafia and insensitive officialdom. The Bellary Road, which was a treat of Mayflowers in summer is today barren and looks like a desert road. The trees that are now planted are not the kind which our forefathers planted- they are short-lived, weak trees. So, the damage done can never be undone. Maybe we will soon have to visit botanical gardens to see peepuls, banyans, tamarinds, jacarandas and other exotic species of trees!

Besides shedding tears, we old-timers can do jolly little, because the noise of the zooming imported cars will never let our voices be heard!

About Sudha Narasimhachar 32 Articles
Sudha Narasimhachar is an ex-banker and freelance writer.

10 Comments

  1. I wish to clarify that I do not preach what I do not practice. I lead a simple life. We in our family still use the public transport system more and our own vehicles only occasionally. I nurture around 25-30 trees in and around my house and take maximum care to see that my neighbours do not face much problem. The so-called ‘neighbours’ only complain about the small little problems that the falling leaves cause to them but forget about the greater benefits out of my trees to them – they are protected by the scorching heat of summers, get good breeze and their wells are replenished well. One has to weigh the discomforts and comforts and then make comments. I too do not own bungalows but I do understand the sentiments of the people who lived there. Houses were not mere concrete structures but were homes with a lot of sentiments and emotions. After all, even if we were not lucky to own them, we did have the pleasure of watching their beauty. I neither own the posh flats that have come up. But I definitely do not enjoy watching the match-box structures and mounds of garbage in front of them and I definitely am more disturbed by the thousands of vehicles that come out of these flats, the pollution caused by their ACs, vehicles, plastic wastes and noise. I strongly feel many of the existing roads like Seshadri Road, Palace Road and the like are wide enough or even if necessary, a separate lane on the other side of the trees can be created for two and three wheelers. What Bangalore requires is proper traffic discipline.

    Thank you for the comments.

    Sudha Narasimhachar

  2. The old and new.The past and present.The cribbing is same.I do not want to cut trees, not in the city alone but all over my country.Not even a bush should be destroyed. But I want wide roads where I can drive a monster of a car and be there first(where?).I want no trees growing in to electric over head lines.But I have the right to plant trees with plum level precision under the electric power lines.Out of the 1200 sft plot I will make a house with 3600 sft”multi level apartment complex” and plant 6 coconut trees around the house so that it grow in to my neighbours “air space” and drop couple of dried up coconuts on his small maruti with aluminum foil as the roof and damage it.But that is act of GOD.The old timer, instead of circling around the city trying to find “vanishing circles” should travel out in to interior of the country, say Sandur, Chitradurga, Hospet, Bellary and see what happened to the forests.I want my Rs.3 million per year job with the IT company but I do not want multi-storeyed structures.

    We all want to enjoy the bandwagon of the “haves”and show pictures of protest, 3 year old with a placard,and want to point west (or singaore) for progress.I came to Bangalore in 1961 and now I live here and pay my taxes and crib all day.Yet I do not want to leave this place because of my sentiments, or call it what ever you want to.The land sharks, the timber mafia, and insensitive officialdom did not come up with out the help of people in ths world.You want to change the situation, change yourself first before practicing the “word play”

    By the way I am just an ordinary mechanic who repair machines and make a living.Not one of those who owned british built beautiful bunglows” on richmond town, Basavangudi, or Malleswaram.

    But if you want to learn about forests, trees, and peaceful living,search “Sweden” on your internet.

  3. Thanks for giving your thoughts to the topic. Nothing can justify the senseless murder of greenery and heritage buildings. Mindless urbanisation has to stop somewhere. The city can take no more. Something really urgent needs to be done to drive sense into the authorities. A simple and urgent step would be to stop permitting any more industries entering the city. Enough is enough. Even if the roads are as broad to let ten vehicles ply at a time, there will still be a jam, if strict discipline is not imposed. The days are not far off when we may have to only fly to our offices! Why cannot the authorities insist certain things when they grant acres and acres of land to industries like they should be self-contained townships like the townships established by the public sector undertakings, which can reduce a major portion of the traffic from criss-crossing across the city?

    Sudha Narasimhachar

  4. Yes, it requires a paradigm shift. The Govt/developers should also plan proper layouts. Gurgaon or Navi Mumbai also has more population than our city and urban population in any city around the globe is high.
    My example of the west was because they have a good administration setup. But then thats just my 2 cents on this subject:)

  5. How many are willing to leave the main city and move to suburbs? It needs a paradigm shift in society’s attitude to move away and look for work/schools in their own area. I know friends who send their children to St Joseph’s or Baldwins, even if the kids have to travel across the city, braving the traffic and losing precious time. So its not just the govt, its the people who should be willing for change.

    And not to forget, the logistics ad parameters of India are hugely different from the west. They have the luxury of space and lesser population, we haven’t.

  6. Point taken. But, I’ve been to Bath, a place made famous by Jane Austen’s novels. The entire city looks like straight out of the 17th Century. The government there, the city council and the residents take pride in their heritage. When a house is deemed heritage, it does not mean one cannot fit new accessories inside the houses, its the outer facade that one cannot change. A heritage house there costs much higher than a normal suburbian house which is much bigger. Rising land costs, high maintenance and lucrative profits may drive the owner towards the developers. However what about permissions given to huge constructions in the city center without consideration to the traffic volumes on our already conjested roads. Why can’t we plan a new city aka gurgaon for the burgeoning populace instead of conjesting a small leafy city.

  7. With all due respects- here is another viewpoint- its all very well to crib about bungalows being razed to the ground- but has anyone given a thought to how much it would cost to maintain one these days? The domestic help, gardeners, re-plastering and paint jobs, electrical and plumbing fittings, security- its no joke to keep a huge and old premises in fit and running condition. Sometime ago I lived in Basavanagudi and had a coconut tree in the small garden. True, for years we enjoyed the bounty, but lately, no gardener came forward to climb the tree and get the coconuts down. It became a nuisance after a while- with dry leaves falling on the electric lines, or hitting an unsuspecting pedestrian on the head and all. There is no choice- old sprawling bungalows are a luxury one cannot afford these days.

  8. Even the young Bangaloreans crave for a better Bangalore. A few years back, Victoria Hotel was a favourite haunt for coffee with friends; sadly its now replaced by a huge Bangalore Central.
    Why does the govt give permission to these malls, that cause unwanted traffic jams, to be built within the city? I always have a harrowing time getting in & out of Koramangala’s Forum. Its the unprecented growth, poor planning and lack of co-ordination between govt bodies(BBMP, BDA, etc) that’s giving in to all these problems.

  9. felt sad on reading this..in the 90’s, I lived in Richmond Town, and watched the old bungalows disappearing…the rot started then, but the pace of Bangalore’s growth has accelerated this process unbearably.

    Greed and lack of vision…a deadly combination.

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