Friday, February 19, 2010

Once upon a time, B'lore lived on par with the West

Once upon a time, B'lore lived on par with the West

At dawn of 19th century, city's wages and living standards were high

Jayalakshmi Venugopal. Bangalore

Bangalore was on par with the West in terms of standards of living and wages as early as the 1800s, according to the findings of an independent city-based researcher, Sashi Sivramkrishna.
The researcher chanced upon a book by a Scottish-physician Francis Buchanan, who travelled across the state in the 1800s with the Mythic Society, while shooting for a documentary titled The Curse of Talakad.
"The first records of Talakad being a dry land was recorded in Buchanan's book. After that, I did quite a few trips retracing his journey across the state," said Sivramkrishna.
Further research showed that even before the colonial intervention, Bangalore and Mysore were on par with the West in terms of wages and standard of living. "In Mysore, I have found 70 data points which indicate that the standard of living and wages were on par with Europe," the researcher added.
Similarly, the presence of multiple currencies has also been established and the havoc it played on trade in the city was recorded.
The trips Sivramkrishna made across Karnataka indicated that the findings of Buchanan on iron smelting being extensively done in Tumkur and Chittradurga were true. "Many of the fields still have black soil and farmers still find crucibles and slag leftovers from the iron smelting activities which were rampant in the areas in the 1800s," Sashi said.
Sivramkrishna has also detailed how Bangalore had changed over the years using Buchanan's records and sketches from BL Rice's Revised Gazetteer of 1897.
Though the city is now considered a Garden City, it was largely an arid land as recorded by Buchanan.
"The sketches and the recorded information show that the city wasn't a forest area, but arid, dry land. In fact, the government planted trees on 542 miles (length) of land for fuel, which was primarily wood to be used in households and for the railways. Urbanisation had led to deforestation in the hinterlands more than in the city because those lands were used for human activity and agriculture, he added.
According to the economist, who graduated from the University of Bombay and has pursued doctoral studies in Economics at Cornell University, New York, there is a tendency to romanticise history and not focus on other aspects.
"We were not a purely agrarian economy as is often suggested. There is evidence to show that there was major scale industrial activity happening across villages back then," Sivramkrishna added.

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