Bangalore is referred to as the Bean Town (benda kaalooru in Kannada) by parts of the English Press. Legend has it that a king called it by that name when he strayed into a village selling boiled beans. While this name is basically a fun name, some of the sobriquets it has acquired do no justice to either the mood or the history of the city. Some journalist with an overdose of imagination saw some retired people going for a walk in a leafy suburb and termed it a pensioner’s paradise. IT spokesmen, who like to believe that it all started with them, describe the city of those days as a sleepy city. These sobriquets were actually misnomers even in the 50s and 60s when the city was vibrant with the aspirations of a new nation. It was a big city even then, being ranked between 5 and 7 among the top ones in India. Its competitors were Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.
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Around the year 1960 Bangalore had a population of about 11 lakhs, and more factories than even the bigger cities. Even in the pre independence days, the city was home to public sector units like Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), ITI (Indian Telephone Industries), HMT (Hindustan Machine Tools), BEL (Bharath Electronics Ltd) etc, apart from numerous smaller factories. Big cotton mills like the Binny Mill and the Rajah Mill were also there. In the early mornings once could see the buses of all these factories plying all over the town.
The city limits
The northernmost limit was the Indian Institute of Science in the Malleshwaram area; in the south, the limit was defined by the aptly called the South End in Basavanagudi. In the eastern part it was the Wilson Garden area and the Mental Hospital (the present NIMHANS). Mysore Road provided the south-western borders of the town. Suburbs like Jayanagar were beginning to be populated. From the south to the north, the city’s span was about 10 kilometers.
Some other things have not changed much. South Parade (the present MG Road) was even then the most sought after destination of most college students. We also used to call it Cant, the cantonment area. One would never advertise it at home since the name meant the den of sin for some older people. Since we had yet to acquire our vices, what attracted us to South Parade were the English movie theatres. The Parade Cafe (the present Koshys) was very popular even then. I remember that one of our classmates in college started frequenting Cant very often, so as to learn to use fork and knife as a preparation to go abroad! Kannada was rarely spoken in the Cant area. We would try our English with waiters etc who themselves were not necessarily comfortable with the language.
The means of private transport in those days was the Jutka, a horse drawn vehicle and a crude version of the elegant Tonga . For some reason it was only Mysore which had these nice Tongas. Jutka was more suited to transport cargo! The hind portion of the Jutka was way above the ground and it was usual for women to get in first. Since the front portion would naturally go up, the younger ones would climb in from the front and sit there along with the driver. However, the Jutkas were already slowly giving way to the auto rickshaws. Earlier there were four-seater rickshaws but they disappeared. There were a few taxis in the whole city, which catered to relatively wealthy customers. Taxis never became popular with the people of Bangalore.
Public transport in Bangalore had been a problem then and it is so even now. The present day BMTC was called the BTC (Bangalore Transport Company – nicknamed Beppu Takkadi Company – essentially a deriding term suggesting its stupidity). Those days Route 1 would start from South End, go via Gandhi Bazar and on to Yeshwantpur . The glamorous route was Route 11- which used to transport girl students from south (Basavanagudi) and north (Malleshwaram ) to Maharani’s College, one of the two girl’s colleges in the city (the other college being Mount Carmel, considered even then as a smart institution). Naturally it attracted a lot of attention. Long queues were thus common at the Route 11 bus stop in Gandhi Bazaar (near the present Co-optex showroom). Some admirers were known to stand in the queue and never get into the bus! The fare from Gandhi Bazaar to Majestic was about 13 or 17 paise in the very early 60s! Another prominent route was 15 from City Market to Russel Market (in the mid 70s some of these routes used to have double-decker buses).
Food, sports and entertainment
As for eateries, the well known Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR) was just then becoming famous but we mostly frequented restaurants around Gandhi Bazaar, especially the ever popular Vidyarthi Bhavan. The cost of a Plain Dosa was about 20 paise and Masala Dosa, 25 paise. There were also local hot spots known only for their dosa/ idli/ vada etc. As students we used to keep track of such things and often walked a few kilometers for just a dosa. However, our eating habits were very desi and we were ignorant about fancy restaurants and hotels. There were very few hotels which served Punjabi dishes.
Since its early days Bangalore had a vibrant sports life. Cricket was a popular sport, and the state Ranji team consisted mostly of players from the city. There were many cricket teams like the Bangalore Cricketers, the City cricketers etc. Apart from studies, cricket was one of the most important activities for us as students. The fields used to play hosts to many cricket matches on weekends. But Bangalore has never had a huge field like Azad maidan of Mumbai where one could see umpteen matches being played simultaneously.
Bangalore had more theatres per capita than any other Indian city (not to mention bars). The two hubs were Kempegowda Road which screened Indian films and Cantonment which mostly showed English films. KG road had probably the largest number of cinema theatres per given area. Given the cosmopolitan nature of its people even then, theatres screened Kannada, Tamil, Telugu , Hindi and English movies. Some morning shows even played Bengali and Malayalam films.
Bangalore has always had very good educational institutions. The Indian Institute of Science was the most prestigious institution in the city then. It trained scientists and engineers in many fields. The Central College was and is one of the oldest colleges for sciences in the country. Bangalore produced more than its share of engineers, with two engineering colleges when most cities had none. There were other famous colleges like the National College, St. Joseph’s college, Mount Carmel College etc.
The city had several newspapers in Kannada like Tainadu, Vishwakarnataka, Janavani and the new daily Prajavani. The only English newspaper was the Deccan Herald (an earlier English paper called the Daily News had a run of nearly 15 years before it stopped). Deccan Herald had the venerable Potan Joseph as the editor. Several Tamil and Urdu papers were also to be seen on the newsstands.
Bangalore South, and especially Gandhi Bazaar was a major intellectual hub of Bangalore. YN Krishnamurthy (popular as YNK, the journalist who influenced various writers and theatre/film movement in Kannada) and H Narasimhayya (HN to students), the educationist w
ere very influential with the youth. There were also eminent writers like Masti Venakatesha Iyengar, Gopalakrishna Adiga, DV Gundappa , GP Rajaratnam etc in Bangalore. But our horizons were very limited and we were not able to appreciate some of these writers who were also great thinkers. Our reading in Kannada was limited to popular novels by Anakru (AN Krishna Rao), Tarasu (TR Subba Rao), Niranjana, Triveni etc. The Kannada paperback industry (hottige) had just then started and books were available for about two rupees!
Well, for old-timers like myself, Bangalore is indeed much more than the sobriquets heaped on it. ⊕