Life on a road with all the hustle bustle goes on as usual. One fine day, residents and traders on that road wake up to the fact that there are strange markings on many of the properties which have appeared overnight. The President of the Traders Association gets a letter from the municipality that the road where they do business and reside is up for expansion. Reason: need for better connectivity from the city centre to the new international airport. A couple of days later, overcome with grief, the man suffers a heart-attack and passes away. Undeterred by the official notice, the residents of the road decide to fight back in their own innovative way. They rub off all the markings which the authorities have put up.
The above story is being scripted in our very own Bengaluru and the road in focus is Avenue Road, which stretches for about a mile from the head office of Mysore Bank (Yelehanka Gate) to Sirsi Flyover (KR Market). This road is amongst the list of 91 roads which have come up for expansion.
In order to make people aware of the history and heritage of this road and point out what they, as a city, will be losing due to the road widening program, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) organized a heritage walk on Avenue Road on 8th February, 2009. The walk was organised with the collaboration of Environmental Support Group (ESG), an organization working for the preservation of Bangalore’s heritage and environment, and The Avenue Road Commercial Association (TARCA).
While every road and every street has a story, Avenue Road has all that and much more to offer. Originally known as Doddapette, the road (area) came into prominence when the British army led by Lord Cornwallis camped in the area while fighting against Tipu Sultan and his army. The British were marching towards Mysore and Bangalore was an extremely strategic location in their effort to defeat Tipu.
While there is no historical account of how Doddapette became Avenue road, what is well documented is the fact that how this area, along with adjoining areas of Chickpet and Sultanpet, emerged as the trading hub in Bangalore. During partition, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Pakistan came to this area and made this their home. Over the next few decades, many more trading communities from the northern and western India (specifically Rajasthan and Gujarat) established successful business over here, not to forget trader communities from Andhra Pradesh. As one trader whom we spoke to (who came here during the partition) points out, if Bangalore has been built on immigrants, this is where it all began.
Slip into the lanes and by-lanes and you will find yourself being transported to different corners of India. These lanes teeming with activity are a microcosm of the places the people here originally came from. It is almost impossible to believe that ten minutes from the heart of the city lies an entirely different world.
Culture notwithstanding, there seems to be tremendous respect amongst different communities for one another and it almost seems that a synergetic web binds this place together. Also, the one language which is recognized and respected in these circles is the language of business and commerce. The inter-dependence of different communities for business and trade maybe the reason for the tightly knit web, whose termination is detrimental to all operating in that arena.
One of the unique aspects of this particular walk was that, though there were volunteers from INTACH, Swathi Reddy and Meera Iyer, as well as Sathya Prakash Varanashi of UDBHAVA, it was Hari Singh and Dilip Shah, traders on Avenue Road, who showed the walkers many of the sights and sounds, and the touches of history of this ancient and beautifully-planned market area.
The corner of Kempegowda Road and Avenue Road, where the latter road may be said to begin, was the starting point for the walk. The Anjaneya temple was the landmark for this end of Avenue Road (though it’s called Avenue Road, there were hardly any trees to be found here even as early as 1860, as Varanashi said!).
The next building of note was the Rice Memorial Church built by the British with gothic columns and a dash of Indian-ness revealed in the choice of paint colour. Interestingly, the church had a school to impart education to girls; surely an unusual thing for the late 19th century! Here are Meera and Varanashi telling us all about the Church building.
Here’s the Chintalapally Venkatanuniah Free Hostel for Boys, which is still administered extremely well and provides free accommodation for meritorious students. It was built by a Telugu-speaking family from Kolar. The Trust is run on the rental that the Vysya Bank pays for the ground floor. The hostel was spotless, and they served the visitors delicious badam milk in the most hospitable way!
TARCA members Hari Singh and Dilip Shah (who has a shop dealing in plastic items) explained the various aspects of life and commerce on Avenue Road. Neither of them is a Kannadiga, in the sense that their mother-tongue is not Kannada, but they have lived on this street for three generations now, so proudly call themselves Bangaloreans. Here’s Singh, explaining how the traffic regulates itself on this road and how there have not been any accidents, because of the slow pace of the cars.
We then went to the Balaji Temple on the road, which is about 500 or 600 years old. The priest there told us about how long the temple had been in existence. Even now, he and his family live on the premises. The visitors were served a sumptuous breakfast of Puliyogare and Mosaranna which was the prasada of the temple.
The traders then showed us the Doddapete Gate, which, according to legend, was the spot from where Kempegowda let four horses run in the four cardinal directions, to determine the extent of Bangalore. Here is one building on the square.
The next stop was the abandoned, but incredibly beautiful ‘Mohan Buildings’, which was functioning until four years ago as the Bombay Anand Bhavan Hotel.
The details of the building were so beautiful, including these wonderful ceiling tiles:
After looking at the building and imagining how life must have been, Dilip Shah showed us the interior of another shop, where the owners used to live until two years ago. It was wonderful to see the very unusual bamboo ceiling of this shop, on which the whole first floor rested.
The participants of the walk found that many of the shops and businesses on this thoroughfare date back even further than some of the buildings. Here’s one business, established 104 years ago:
As the walk came to an end, we were left asking ourselves one question. At what cost are we progressing and where are we headed?
The only statement which comes to my mind was what a member of the group said, “When we are cutting down trees, demolishing houses and structures and uprooting families, all in the name of development, we, of course, lose a part of history, a part of nature… but more importantly what we lose is a part of ourselves which can never be recovered”.