In 1968, David M. Chico received his qualification to be a doctor and set off on his motorbike down Hennur-Bagalur Road. He was scouting for a place from which he could provide healthcare to people from the many villages in the Kothanur area, and after a day of touring, he settled on Kothanur village. Set amidst ragi, avarekai and cholam fields, Kothanur seemed the most suitable because of its location on the main road and its accessibility to the neighbouring villages, and this was where he set up one of his clinics, in a pump house made available by a generous resident.
For the “donkey’s years” that Dr. Chico says he’s been in Kothanur, he’s been known to treat his patients irrespective of caste or financial background. And one Rajyotsava day around a decade ago, Kothanur’s residents showed their gratitude by a naming a road after him.
Today, the fields that Dr. Chico speaks of have largely disappeared, and the landscape has altered, but one aspect visitors to the area cannot fail to notice (besides the towering blocks of apartments, that is) is the sheer number of non-government and philanthropic organisations, and religious institutions that have made Kothanur their base.
Well-known institutions such as Home of Hope and Visthar settle alongside scores of smaller organisations running orphanages, homes for the elderly, rehabilitation centres for battered women, alcoholics and the homeless, among others.
The primary reason for this is that until recently, the price of land in the Kothanur region was low. Reny George, who runs Prison Fellowship Bangalore, says when he moved his organisation to Kothanur in 1999, land cost Rs. 25 a square foot — today, it costs over Rs. 2,000.
Moreover, the predominantly rural character of the suburb meant that organisations could often be located closer to “target groups”. One example of this is Habitat for Humanity, a group that works on housing for the poor; the Bangalore office of the global organisation relocated to Kothanur from Madivala three years ago. “Since we worked on slum rehabilitation, the location enabled us to be closer to areas like Byappanahalli and Hegde Nagar,” says Nirmala Rani, Senior Manager. “Being close to the heart of the city didn’t matter — with the airport being located north, the heart of the city itself is changing.”
Once a cluster of houses
Not too long ago, recalls Krishnamurthy, whose father was the last of hereditary Patels in charge of the Kothanur region before the panchayat system replaced it, the village consisted of 30 houses, of which 15 were thatched huts. The area was comprised largely of five villages — Kothanur, Kyalasanahalli, Naganahalli, Geddalahalli, and Narayanapura — today, this has grown include around 10. Now a part of the city, Kothanur village is under the Horamavu ward (number 25), one of the newly created wards in the BBMP.
But being part of Bangalore doesn’t seem to have helped the area much, if its persistent water shortages and electricity issues are any indicators. Until the arrival of Dr. Chico, medical facilities in the area were nonexistent, save for door-to-door Ayurvedic practitioners.
Even three years ago, the roads were not laid out, but the local economy is beginning to change. “There are people who have benefitted from the new infrastructure,” says Nirmala. “One of our home owners used to work as a domestic maid three years ago, and now owns a petty shop.”
Kothanur’s urban transition upsets those like Krishnamurthy, whose family is traditionally land-owning. Before the sprawl of the city caught up to this north-eastern fringe, the rural character represented a sense of community (albeit markedly insular — even today, caste divisions remain stark in the area, although many of Kothanur’s residents are reluctant to discuss this). “When there were festivals,” says Krishnamurthy, “people from all villages would get together. With development and the arrival of migrants, that is lost. If you stand at the bus stop you won’t see 10 villagers anymore.”