Monday, July 12, 2004

CityScapes: Mayo Hall

Mayo Hall: Still a picture of elegance

The walls of Mayo Hall, which earlier housed the offices of the Rent Controller and Registrar of Marriages, have many interesting tales to tell.

In the 1950s, for many Bangaloreans, Mayo Hall came to represent the Rent Controller's office. "Typically you read the notice board there listing houses available for rent and applied for one. And without much ado you'd be allotted a huge bungalow for rents as low as Rs 140 per month." laughs Dr T R G Anand, a Cantonment old-timer and well-known homoeopath physician. In short, for renting or letting out a house, the place to go was Mayo Hall - near Dozey's Garage on South Parade.

To be sure there were other offices in this magnificent building. Black coated lawyers, typists, stamp vendors and such personae were testimony to that. Civil cases from minor traffic offences such as 'double-riding' on bicycles to the more serious ones were tried here. It was also the place for 'registered marriages'.

When originally built, the ground floor had the the Municipal Office for the Cantonment, several public offices and law courts. The upper floor was designed for important 'Public meetings and Exhibitions'.

Going back to its very beginning, Mayo Hall became a part of a larger design to develop the cantonment into an integrated Bangalore Civil & Military station.
Accordingly, around the mid-1800s, began a series of developmental activity.

The army that defeated Tipu Sultan in the 4th Mysore War was shifted from the swampy environs of Srirangapatana to the more salubrious Bangalore. It was 1809 and the new garrison town began to grow. The crown's administrative staff and the army's families began arriving in droves, taking the arduous sailing route around the Cape of Good Hope. Sensing the business opportunities tradesmen also took the boat. Soon items never before seen in Bangalore started arriving, for, it was a century of dramatic happenings. The world saw many firsts: postage stamps, automobiles, electric light bulbs, motion pictures, phonographs, photography, repetition rifles, railroad locomotives, steamships, telegraphs and telephones.

With this revolution began the 'westernisation' of Bangalore. "Roads, parks, promenades, churches, schools, hospitals, shopping centres, dance halls, pubs, clubs, cricket, golf range, and a race course came up where there were none," says Major-General (retd.) John Verghese, the widely read raconteur extra-ordinary, "Everything in Britain was brought here. Well, almost everything. Houses with fountains, tennis courts, and gardens came up in areas such as Richmond Town, South Parade, and St John's Church Road. Even flowers - phlox, zinnias, dahlias, and so on - and veggies such as cauliflower, cabbage, carrots and beetroot were brought from good ol' Blighty!"

In this period of rapid change, Lord Mayo (christened Richard Southwell Bourke) was appointed the Viceroy and Governor General of India, who hastened the development process. In the short 1869-72 period he was in India, this Trinity College, Dublin graduate travelled extensively, was greatly impressed with the people and the land, and said that Britain should hold India "as long as the sun shines in heaven". This sentiment was widely and enthusiastically shared in the Empire.

However on a visit to Port Blair's prison, Lord Mayo's life was cut short. He was assassinated, stabbed to death by Sher Ali, a Pathan life convict, the only Indian Viceroy to be murdered in office. His murder was an act of vendetta. The convict who killed him did so to avenge his father's death in the Anglo-Afghan War.

As a tribute to this administrator a commemorative building was erected on South Parade, on a flat ground with trees, flowering bushes and a low wall on the south side. Terraced lawns surrounded the two-story building. It cost about Rs 40,000, a sum largely raised through public subscription.

The Mayo Hall was inaugurated by the British Resident on June 6th, 1883 - with considerable pomp and pageantry. Inside the building had a number of exquisitely framed pictures of the British nobility and outstanding citizens in the hall. In the first floor there were Italian chandeliers, ornate furniture and exquisite furnishings.
Being on a hill, Mayo Hall offered a panoramic view of the Parade grounds and Ulsoor Lake on the one side and the Shoolay Lake, Race Course and Brigade Grounds in the south.

The late Kora Chandy described the Mayo Hall as 'one of the most elegant public buildings of the era in Southern India.' Several Greco-Roman elements and influences are apparent in the building: architrave and pediment windows, key-stoned arches, balustrade ledges, beautiful consoles, Greek cornices, Tuscan columns, and wooden floors.

Today Mayo Hall stands shorn of its greenery and breathing space. Tall buildings form its neighbours. The snarl of heavy traffic can be heard non-stop. So what is the future of this magnificent building?

As old buildings bite the dust one by one, there is an apprehension a similar fate awaits many of Bangalore's landmarks. In the Western world we see the community take pride and interest in history and heritage. Many a philanthrophist and the local government collobrate to support efforts that preserve and promote heritage and culture.

Mayo Hall is a case in point in history-rich Bangalore that deserves such suppport


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