Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nostalgia or need?

Nostalgia or need?
Work on the Metro Rail on MG Road has begun and Bangaloreans will soon be bidding adieu to the boulevard. We bring you two articles from old Bangaloreans, who walk down the patch of green to share their memories.

A bird’s eye view of the Parade Grounds had a grassy central area and a large body of water at one corner, surrounded by dense vegetation on its south-western periphery. That brief verdant section, after the rains, momentarily took you to the lush richness of the Malnad. In more recent times, separating the historic military grounds and the road is a splendorous evergreen bush bearing purple-pink flowers, and a walkway.

The radiant plant has a hoary background. A French Navy Admiral, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, ‘discovered’ it growing in wild splendour in Brazil in 1768. He carried the exotic plant to the western world from where it eventually found its way to British India, and the famous embankment on South Parade.

South Parade, that stretch of Mahatma Gandhi Road between present day Anil Kumble Circle and Brigade Road, became one continuous trendy mall with upmarket stores, chic fashion houses, Marks & Spencers and other English brand outlets, dancing halls and piano bars, restaurants, and a place where the rich and famous were to be seen.

Life on the other side of South Parade, on the bund was equally exciting. Long before motor vehicles, fashionably dressed women and men in top hats on horses went around the tree-lined bridle path. This elevated path had exquisite trees and flower beds and benches for people to rest. From that vantage point one had views of social butterflies, outrageously dressed young girls going around with tennis rackets, soldiers ogling at pretty women, inebriated men getting thrown out from taverns, and other such Victorian goings-on.

Favourite haunt

Around the 1930s, the Civil and Military station’s hungry souls and saccharine-toothed crowds often made a beeline to a hep ice-cream kiosk facing the water body across the elevated ‘bund’. The Lakeview Ice Cream parlour, even with many changes in ownership, retained its hold on customers.

In the ’60s and ’70s the bund was a favourite hangout of students, young couples and retirees. On Saturdays and Sundays, invariably after the movies and a coffee at Koshy’s, youngsters ambled across with friends there.

The serious minded discussed Camus or the French Nouvelle Vogue movies or Che Guevara. On other benches sat teenagers such as long haired Bidu Appiah in tight pants hugging guitars and serenading the chicks in the gang with ‘Rhythm of the falling rain’ and hours would fly by, as honge flowers dropped from the branches above. Often times you’d find young journalists sitting across Deccan Herald, carrying on what apparently started in the India Coffee House, and holding forth on issues of the day – El Che or Karnad’s Kaadu and its symbolism.

Elsewhere on the bund children played or couples sat near the illuminated cascading fountain opposite Liberty cinema, or some came just to shoot the breeze. Besides peanut vendors, a frequent visitor on the bund was an elderly Sikh fortune teller. With heavily dark, kohled eyes he’d hold youngsters’ eye and talk of their future. “You to study much if want to pass ‘exterminations’ and become officer”, he’d say, or “Pray hard to ensuring good marriage prospects and future.”

This morning I walked down memory lane, starting from tree no. 481, a mango tree, on the bund and right upto Oriental (Anil Kumble circle), crossing the fruit bearing Ficus, tree no. 461. Rag pickers, mongrels, garbage and the inevitable fire of paper, and other rubbish greeted me. Yes, not many changes have taken place on the promenade. The mini-Malnadu was there. Fact is this heritage district has remained ‘heritage’ more in name than in care and upkeep.

Namma Metro

As I left this morning a bull-dozer was noisily and angrily gobbling up the ‘bund’ and dumping pink flowers and mud with mechanical precision. Much of the tree canopy, we’re assured, will be spared. By 19 April 2009, concrete and steel will reshape the promenade and the click, click, click of the Namma Metro will echo in the area where once birds chirped, animated discussions on existentialism were heard, the soul touching sounds of Bidu’s guitar lingered and gladdened many a heart.

The bund protesters and others interested in preserving Bangalore’s heritage will continue to protest. Meanwhile, old timers are bound to feel nostalgic about the changes wrought on the historical bund. On the other hand, there are many who after experiencing the Singapore or Kolkotta or Delhi metros, don’t see what all the fuss is about. After all, Bangalore does need a faster and better mass transportation system...

Janardhan Roye

Memories a(bund)ant

Perhaps, not many citizens in Bangalore are as nostalgic about the MG Road boulevard than KSN Murthy, an IAS officer, who retired 15 years ago. In the mid-1960s as the Commissioner of the then Bangalore City Corporation, he took a personal interest in helping to create the boulevard with the support of an efficient team of officials.

“I had a good relationship with the police as the deputy secretary, General Administration Department, now known as Public Administration. A R Nizamuddin, then deputy commissioner of traffic, was a good friend and he had a good idea about traffic management. There was no undue publicity or announcements”, recalls Murthy.

Speaking to Metrolife at his residence in Benson Town, he reminisces that the road from Queen Victoria’s statue, past Anil Kumble Circle (then Oriental Circle) up to Brigade Road junction used to be zig-zag and narrow. Cars used to be parked along the length of the road, where the metro rail track has been proposed.

“In place of the boulevard there was a big mound of soil dumped from Parade Ground. There were no caretakers for M G Road. The corporators had no pecuniary or social interest in developing the road. In 1966 Nizamuddin and I, conducted a joint inspection of the road to make it as wide as possible,” says Murthy.

Murthy was supported by A B Ramanand, Corporation Engineer (now redesignated as Chief Engineer), a relative of Arcot Ramaswamy Mudaliar, a noted contractor during the British regime. The deputy corporation engineer was one Isaac, a knowledgeable person, who also helped in the estimation of the road widening work put up before the standing committee for approval.

How it was approved

“There was a possibility that this work would not be approved by the corporators, who were very unruly in those days. Most corporators were shouting and in the melee the plan got approved without them knowing what it was all about.”

When excavation of the soil (mound) began, a well-dressed man in traditional kacche-panche and a turban alighted from a black cadillac and came near me. He was K N Guruswamy, the founder of Deccan Herald.

Says Murthy, “I knew who he was and I had seen him many times, but I had not personally spoken to him. He asked me, ‘Are you the Commissioner? I am Guruswamy.’ I told him we were trying to widen the road and Guruswamy responded by saying that it was a good idea. He even asked photographer T L Ramaswamy to take photographs of the work in progress. More than me, it was Guruswamy who took an interest in the progress of the work.”

Once the road was widened, there was a question of what to do with the mound of soil which was still there. Carting of the mud waste was suggested but that was not practical. There were two three ideas about what to do with the mound. The engineer, Ramanand, who in his capacity as a Rotarian, had been abroad and knew about landscaping. He suggested that they could make steps, but this would lead to litter.

“I had read a book by Burley-Marx, a landscape architecture and suggested that the mound could be converted into a green turf. But growing green grass was extremely difficult. It had to be something like bougainvillaea, a perennial, which could withstand severe summers. There was resistance to the planting of bougainvillaea as it shoots up very fast. The bouganvillea were finally planted with the assistance of the horticultural superintendent of the Corporation.”

Six pergolas were erected all along the flat portion of the boulevard and stone benches were placed, which are now replaced by concrete benches. “It was not known as boulevard or promenade as it is known today. Only one of the six pergolas survives today at the Kumble Circle”, adds Murthy.

Murthy’s interest in plants and landscaping goes back to his college days, when he was a student of Botany. His bookshelf is lined with books on landscaping. During his tenure as deputy secretary in the Union Ministry in Delhi, he was instrumental in laying of the Nehru Park. When Prakash Singh Kairon saw the Nehru Park he invited him to do something similar and unusual in Chandigarh and thus was born the famous Rose Garden of Chandigarh!

Murthy cautions that annuals should not be planted below the proposed metro rail track as this would mean planting year after year. Instead perennials should be planted.

Michael Patrao


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