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Updated: August 8, 2012 21:26 IST

Going to town with a colonial legacy

Niranjana Ramesh
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Time warp: In striking contrast to nearby Cambridge Layout, Murphy Town resists change and remains the settlement that was planned a century ago. Photo: Karan Ananth
The Hindu Time warp: In striking contrast to nearby Cambridge Layout, Murphy Town resists change and remains the settlement that was planned a century ago. Photo: Karan Ananth

Once called ‘a settlement too good for its inhabitants’, Murphy Town retains many of its century-old amenities

Sahayaraj, a 49-year-old driver, stays in a single bedroom house near Indiranagar, paying rent of Rs. 3 per month to the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). So does 85-year-old Sivalingam, who works in the 125-year-old temple in his area, after having retired from the Army 25 years ago. Their neighbour pays only Rs. 0.50 a month for a slightly smaller house.

There are 37 such households living in what is perhaps the most unchanged legacy of the erstwhile Cantonment — Murphy Town. In striking contrast to the modern Cambridge Layout part of Jogupalya, Murphy Town is a settlement that stays true to its colonial past.

“My grandfather came here with the British army contingent from Vellore,” recalls Sivalingam. “Then, in 1913, Engineer Murphy, who went on to work for Binny Mills, designed this settlement for the Indian servants of the British army.”

Loaded with amenities

Famously called ‘a settlement too good for its inhabitants’ by the colonial masters, Murphy Town retains many of its century-old amenities, which residents continue to use.

For starters, there is the Murphy Town market, well known for its meat sales all over east Bangalore. Shops assigned for chicken, mutton, fish and other meats are arranged around a square. A separated section sells beef.

35-year-old Mani has been cutting and selling meat here almost all his life. “I came here to work as a little boy. My parents were factory workers who got quarters in Murphy Town,” he narrates. Visitors to the market can also make use of the reading room set up by the State government in a stone building at the centre of the market.

“The State library is on the other side, occupying a whole floor of a corporation complex in Jogupalya,” says Kokilakshmi, the librarian. “But, many people, even the policemen who come to the grounds nearby, come here to read as the building is spacious, comfortable and well lit.”

Ownership issues

“From what I remember, there is almost nothing that has changed in this area. Even the drainage system we use today was laid by the British,” Mani adds.

The rentals too stay at what was fixed by the British administration. “Once the country became independent, residents went to Murphy and demanded that they be given ownership of the houses,” Sahayaraj narrates. “Some 37 of them were left without papers and we are stuck, unable to do anything with our houses or sell them.”

But, does he want to sell his house and move out? His answer is an assertive no. “Nobody ever leaves this area. Some have built apartments on their sites and rented them out,” Sahayaraj says, pointing to a freshly painted three-storeyed building beside the row of single-storeyed houses with tiled roofs.

So, why the necessity to own a house when the rental is negligible? Karmegavannan, a political worker in the area, has a political explanation to the question. “They are still considered migrants when they go for services to government or other establishments. People treat them as if they are living on the charity of the government even though they are perhaps older residents of the city than many others,” he explains. “Getting legal documentation for their house strengthens their position.”

Karmegavannan has been living in Murphy Town since his childhood. He remembers visiting Jogupalya village to watch movies in the ‘tent theatre’ there, before Adarsha or Lido cinemas were built. He remembers a time when the Lakshmipuram graveyard was the only feature opposite Murphy Town, where CMH Road is now.

Non-stereotypical

“People tend to stereotype the area as having a culture of only temple festivals such as ‘walking on fire’ ceremonies. But, it is actually a beautifully designed area. There are nine squares, with playgrounds in the middle, which are a riot of games in the evenings and on Sundays even today,” he says. “The roads are named after the Mudaliars who were prominent businessmen among the community here.”

“The schools used to be Tamil medium, now they have been converted to Kannada-medium schools,” he points out. One school bears the plaque ‘1913 Elementary School’. A crèche cum primary school also runs nearby. “People who go for construction or domestic work leave their children here,” says Kousalya, a teacher there.

The other school has a dilapidated stone building in the front named ‘the Evelyn Barton Welfare Centre’. Says the principal, M. Muniyappa, “This centre was closed down because the building was considered dangerous.” “Now, the appearance of the building from outside makes a bad impression on parents whose preference to put their children in the numerous English medium schools around gets reinforced.”

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