In July 2008, my parents and I boarded a flight from San Francisco International Airport, and arrived twenty-four hours later in Bangalore. Unlike our usual journeys, this one was not a round trip. We were leaving the United States and moving to India for good.
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We soon settled down in a comfortable, modern apartment somewhere on the outskirts of Bangalore – in an erstwhile village called Bellandur, now part of Greater Bangalore. I had a new house, a new school, and new friends… but most importantly, a new town to explore.
Investigate! Explore! Dig! To me, these words conjure up magic. Since childhood, I had always been interested in digging, whether it had to do with geology, archaeology, or paleontology. I have a fascination for the past. I was enthralled with stories of Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, and Peru.
When I say "a town to explore", my expectations of course were muted. Bangalore clearly did not have the same appeal as ancient Mayan or Egyptian history. I had never heard of anything interesting with respect to Bangalore. All I ever associated with this city were phrases like "Information Technology" and "outsourcing". What could this city possibly hold in store for me, a student of history?
As luck would have it, I met two very interesting people over the last three years. Dr. Aruni of The Indian Council for Historical Research shared his passion for history, and showed me several hundred-year old artifacts that he recovered from various metro rail construction sites and offered me access to resources on old Bangalore. I later met Dr. Shanti Pappu, an eminent archaeologist and co-founder of the Sharma Heritage Centre in Chennai. She too encouraged me immensely. Interestingly, both advised me to do a micro-history project of my locality; they felt that I would enjoy it immensely and would learn a lot in the process. Reluctantly, I agreed.
After all, what would Bellandur have to offer in terms of history or historical interest?
I couldn’t have been any farther from the truth. My work last summer gave me a new perspective of this place I now call "home. I gained a deep and abiding respect for so many small things that make a small community rich and vibrant.
To those like me who are not native to this wonderful city, here is a little primer. Bangalore has been coined "the Silicon Valley of India" due to its huge contribution to the growth of the information technology industry in India. While Bangalore has been an urban center for a long time, the phenomenal growth of the information technology industry has lead to its rapid modernization and urbanization. When I say "rapid", understand that hundred years ago, the inhabitants of my little "erstwhile" village called Bellandur never had electricity.
Bellandur itself has a curious and very interesting history. I learnt a lot about it during my long sitting with Jagannatha Reddy, a respected community member of Bellandur, and former Sarpanch. We sat inside a large, beautiful temple he is constructing right next to the lake. He gave me insights that books could not have given me. He told me stories that I could not have read anywhere. Apart from speaking to Reddy, I also scoured other sources for material about Bellandur.
So now, let me transport you back in time. The year is 1914. A relatively unknown Indian lawyer by the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returns to his native Porbandar in Gujarat from South Africa, and starts what is to become the greatest freedom movement ever. Closer home, a far more trivial event happens.
Three Reddy families leave their native Andhra Pradesh, travel on foot through rough terrain in search of a place they can settle down and earn a living. After several days, they reach this tiny village by an expansive, crystal clear lake. They make Bellandur their home. The Reddys are farmers, so they fit in well with the existing small community of around fifteen families living there. Soon, the hardworking Reddys own sprawling fields growing paddy, ragi, guavas, apples, and grapes. The Reddys are also adept fishermen and experienced cattle herders. With their versatility, they are soon one of the wealthiest families in Bellandur.
In 1930s, one of the Reddy males decides to renovate the existing temple. Months of labour and hard work result in a small but impressive temple. The new temple complex adds character to the little village. This "change is necessary for development" attitude seems to be the hallmark of Bellandur.
The 1940s herald the first significant signs of modernization – the first was the arrival of the bicycle as a means of transport. 1947 is another landmark year – a Muslim resident sets up a rice huller to process the rice that the local farmers grow. And to power the huller, electricity is drawn from the city of Bangalore. This relatively insignificant event proves to be a giant leap for the village.
Throughout the 1900s, Bellandur Lake is an integral part of the village. Fishermen fish in the crystal-clear lake, children swim in the refreshing waters, and farmers use the water to irrigate their fields. By the 1960s though, the lake loses its pristine beauty. Colossal seaplanes (from the HAL airbase on the northern side) begin landing on its still waters, disrupting the peace and tranquility. This of course restricts access to the lake at times, but it definitely puts Bellandur on the map.
In 1962, the village establishes a Panchayat, with people’s representatives running the affairs of the village. The village is now self-governing, and prosperous. In 1965, a bus service connects Bellandur village to Bangalore City, a distance of twenty kilometres. The village is finally recognized as a settlement in its own right.
By 1970, Bellandur’s population crosses 200. A resident becomes the proud owner of the iconic Bullet motorcycle. Lift irrigation from the Bellandur Tank is implemented in 1978. The lush fields of Bellandur are a deep emerald color, speckled with dabs of vibrant yellow bushes and vivid red flowers.
The year is now 1994. Jagannatha Reddy is elected as the Panchayat President. Gram Sabha meetings are broadcast live through cable TV to all residents of Bellandur, as a way to drive transparency in governance.
In 1994, computers are donated to government schools in Bellandur so that children can get technically qualified for jobs that are slowly showing up in the area. In 1998, the village Panchayat even wrangles a computer from the state government to digitize land records. Waste segregation is introduced in Bellandur in the early ’90s.
During my research, I found that there is a lot of information about Bellandur, dating back from early topographical surveys done by British cartographers to word-of-mouth tales from elderly residents, still living along the banks of Bellandur Tank. I have learnt an enormous lot about Bellandur. I am proud to be a me
mber of this "village".
Bellandur is a fantastic neighborhood with some of the most resourceful and enterprising minds in the country; it is stunning to see how far a village could progress in just under a century.
This short exercise in studying Bellandur’s past helped me understand a small civilization’s march towards progress over a relatively short period of time. I know that as long as I keep digging, I will keep discovering.