Sunday, July 31, 2005

A piece of history slowly falling apart

A piece of history slowly falling apart
The Times of India

Bangalore: From afar, it is splendidly old Bangalorean, all rafters and tiles and gentle terrace. A step closer and it is clear that the passage of time has been unkind.

But age is not the only worry for the office of the Senior Superintendent of Post Offices (SSPO) on Museum Road. B a n g a l o re ’s weather has taken its toll too. Today, the over 150-year-old building stands proudly but rain havoc has left crying evidence of the careful restoration it really needs.

For heritage buffs, the building is a fund of old Bangalore lore. For instance, it is the reason how Museum Road got its name.
Residency: So why was it ever a museum and when did it become a post office? The tale begins in colonial times. According to assistant post master general K.S.R. Sastry, the building was initially the residence of the British Resident. The first commissioner of Bangalore, Sir Mark Cubbon, occupied it and it was known as the Old Residency then. When he left in 1855, the building was given to Madras Bank, which has now become State Bank of India. The road next to the bank became Madras Bank Road.

But just a portion of the Residency became a bank. The other half on the other side of the road became a jail and housed the jail superintendent from 1835 to 1866. A amateur historian has noted that thugs from North India used to be housed there.
Museum: When the superintendent vacated the place, it became the government museum until all the antiques were shifted to the museum’s present location (on Kasturba Road). But the road continued to be called Museum Road. After that, the building became the office of the SSPO.

According to Sastry, the building is in Dravidian style and has Mangalore tiles. Postal services came to Bangalore with the passing of the Indian Post Office Act of 1854. “At one time, this building used to control all the post offices in Bangalore,’’ says Sastry. The present Museum Road post office (a modern building) is located right next to it.

The Department of Posts has other old buildings — a couple in North Karnataka (Belgaum and Bijapur) — but this one is the oldest. Today, this SSPO controls all post offices in East division — 95 post offices including 36 delivery offices.

The beautiful old building has received a mention in the late chief secretary T.P. Issar’s book ‘Bangalore: The City Beautiful,’ but only the postal staff know that the glory is purely external. Inside, leaking roofs abound. In fact, the room occupied by the SSPO now has a false ceiling and to prevent the rafters from collapsing, waterproof sheets were laid just last month.

The department of posts does provide funds for maintaining heritage buildings, but careful restoration will take time and money.
Will Bangalore chip in to help preserve this part of its history?


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