The glory and beauty of one of the oldest clock towers in Russel Market has been diminished by an ever-expanding city. Sadder still is that the ancient clocks have gone missing
On a blistering summer late afternoon we enter the historic Russell Market and try to make our way to the clock tower that predates the 150-year-old market itself. The market’s busy with buyers and sellers, but we attract attention of curious shopkeepers who can in a moment tell that our faces don’t wear the look of promising customers. “What are you looking for?” some venture to ask as we go around the market in circles trying to find the way that leads to the clock tower. “Which clock? Where? We have been here since we were children, haven’t seen any clock,” they click tongues and shake heads. “Someone, has given you wrong information,” they are certain. We tell them the story, and show them the clock tower from an old paper cutting, they look disinterested and go back to selling. A man from the fish stall trails behind us quietly and leads us to the enthusiastic Mohammed Idrees Choudhury, general secretary, Russell Market Fruits and Vegetable Traders’ Association, who owns a dry fruit shop. “How could we have allowed a mall to come here,” he begins almost immediately, placing in my palm the world’s best dates from South Africa. Referring to BBMP’s plan to raze down the historic Russell Market, he speaks of how atleast 10,000 people’s livelihoods are intertwined with this old market. The next few minutes Mohammed Idrees very passionately explains the history of the place, and I’m a willing listener of the story all over again. “I can take you to the top of the clock tower,” he promises.
As the hero of our story Mohammed Idrees speaks to me, I remember Kannada playwright’s village character Kolike Ranga who sings of the symbols of modernity in wonderment. “Dodda Gadiyaara” the central image of the song, also becomes a metaphor of time and not merely a physical clock tower that has entered into the lives of people. Several decades later, these glorious clock towers continue to remain a metaphor of time [lost] in city landscapes that are changing rapidly.
Bangalore has had several clock towers – the earliest among them are perhaps the ones in Russel Market and Central College. “In those days people couldn’t even think of owning a wrist watch,” explains expert A. Jayaram, speaking of how the common dowry demand was a bicycle and a wrist watch. Public clock towers were built so that the common man could keep track of time. In fact, Dewan Mirza Ismail even installed mirrors in public buildings, as most homes didn’t have one. The clock tower around which the Russel Market is built is hardly visible until you go up close, dwarfed as it is by the surrounding buildings. Sadly, all the three clocks have long gone missing and nobody knows when it was last seen. “The needles of the clock they say were made from gold. I have heard my elders saying that it was stunning. Nobody has bothered to replace it. All the doors leading to the clock tower have been sealed, because parts of the staircase are broken.” However, that’s hardly a deterrent for Mohammed – he climbs the wall holding on to the pipes, and reaches the roof top from where the clock tower is arm’s distance: our photographer follows suit.
As S.K. Aruni Deputy Director of ICHR writes in an essay on Russell Market that Shivajinagar was known as Kalpalli, and within it existed a small market that catered to the daily household needs of the British soldiers in the Cantonment camp during the 1920s. The new market around the clock tower was built as per the queen’s order in 1850s.
It was built by Dorman Long, a very big company in England known for building bridges. In fact, if you go around the market carefully, the few surviving old pillars have ‘Dorman Long, Made in England’ etched on them. The market, they say, is erected on metal pillars considering there is a water body underneath. “This is such an architectural wonder that even in the peak of summer it is cool here,” explains Mohammed Idrees.
After plague broke out in 1898, a hygienic and scientific market was built by Cantonment Municipality and it was during this period that the market came to be renamed after Commissioner Russell.
The clock tower is our connection to another way of life that existed. It treasures memory, architectural styles and concerns of a different kind.
“I have seen an owl family live in the clock tower since I was a child. They have made this tower their home,” exclaims Mohammed Idrees.