If you take the time to visit Tilaknagar yourself, or speak to the folks that live there, you’ll hear a number of fascinating stories that are as diverse as the people you meet

Tilaknagar is a dynamic place with a reputation that precedes it. People, commerce and religion interact and at times collide, and it’s likely that you’ve heard stories of crime or communal tension, but if you take the time to visit the place yourself, or speak to the folks that live there, you’ll hear a number of fascinating stories that are as diverse as the people you meet.

Visually, the tiny locality of Tilaknagar is markedly different from most of Jayanagar. The broad, neat roads that characterise the sprawling and largely middle class suburb narrow down into an intricate grid of lanes and small buildings, some drab and others doused in colour. On Swagath Main Road, around which life in Tilaknagar pivots, B.R. Ambedkar, fashioned out of a glossy black substance, points into the distance, while loudspeakers from a large mosque blare sermons at passersby. A large sign put up by a political organisation with a full-length portrait of Ambedkar rivals a flex board with a blow-up of a prominent filmstar a few streets away. Mutton stalls with housewives in burkhas waiting for the best cuts, bike repair shops that serve as addas for young men, and a mall with a multiplex theatre (having supplanted the old Swagath Theatre that stood there) rub shoulders on the busy main road. There’s a constant buzz in Tilaknagar, where people of all faiths live side by side, that makes it a rather intriguing place to be in.

‘All cement houses’

It’s a locality that has moved up in life. “Tilaknagar used to be a slum when I lived there about 25 years ago,” says Keerthi (name changed on request), who works as a domestic help in 4T Block. “Now it’s all multi-storeyed cement houses and proper roads,” she says. Linda (name changed), also a domestic help, agrees. “These days we get all facilities, including water and electricity, and every house in the area has a toilet. Ours is the only house in the area that still has a tin roof; all the others are made of cement. The area near Maheshwari Theatre, in 4T Block — now that’s a slum,” she says with a sniff.

‘Multicultural atmosphere’

Hafeezur Rahman P., who has lived in the more upmarket Krishnappa Garden for over six years, values the “multicultural atmosphere” in Tilaknagar. What’s not to like, he asks, citing bus connectivity, the restaurants and friendly neighbours. “Here, rich and poor all live together,” he says, adding that the price of land has gone up since he moved to Tilaknagar: “A single bedroom apartment used to cost between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 5,000, but now you’ll be lucky if you get anything for even Rs. 7,000.”

Tilaknagar does, however, have a troubled history that still haunts its older residents, even if Rahman says he doesn’t feel bothered by it: 2002 was the last time the area saw major clashes. After violence during a Karaga procession and the trouble that followed, curfew was imposed, police were given shoot orders, 14 platoons of the City Armed Reserve (CAR) police were deployed, and 100 were taken into police custody.

Although it’s been ten years without the area seeing an incident on such a scale, Tilaknagar hasn’t yet managed to fully dissociate from the violence tied to it in public perception.

Moving on

However, Mary (name changed), says Hindu, Muslim and Christian families have lived connected lives in the area, and she has never had to worry too much about trouble. If something does happen, she knows her neighbours in the predominantly Muslim part of Tilaknagar where she lives will come to her family’s aid.

“That’s the way it has been. Us older residents, who have lived together and know each other well, don’t have problems. It’s mainly young layabouts that get involved when trouble starts,” she says.

Mary also talks about the effort her locality has made to move beyond its scarred past: “After the Karaga incident, both sides sat down and talked, and now the mosque that was at the centre of the controversy is one of the points that the Karaga procession passes through every year.”

Mary who is 45, was born in Tilaknagar and has lived there her whole life. When asked if she’s ever contemplated living elsewhere, she shakes her head and says she wouldn’t move out for all the world. “Everyone knows each so other well, and we have everything we need. It feels like we’re all one big family.”

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