If you’ve never seen a ‘Nissen hut’, make your way to Palmgrove Road in Austin Town. A large signboard will draw your attention to the few that remain in the area, some of which are occupied.

Semi-circular structures

Nissen huts — semi-circular structures manufactured using corrugated metal — are named after Peter Norman Nissen, the Canadian-American who designed them during World War I as housing for troops.

They were quick, easy and cheap to assemble, and adaptable for several purposes.

While residents in the block say there used to be around 40 of the structures, put up during British rule as shelter for horses used by the army, only a handful remain. The rest have made way for modern structures made of cement, painted in vivid colours.

Tracing the connection

Some of the residents, such as Sarala D., have lived there for generations, with relatives having worked for the army in various capacities.

Tracing her family’s connection to the huts to the time of her grandmother, she says three of her uncles worked for the military before Independence. Some of the families that lived in the huts, who managed to do well for themselves, later demolished the originals and built new houses in their place.

Laxmi M., also a Nissen house resident, says her family had been living there for more than 60 years.

Her older brothers, now retired, had worked for the army in British India, she said.

Cheap and hardy

Suresh M., who works in a showroom, said his father who, was working in the army in Calcutta, shifted to Bangalore in 1945. As he was a member of army personnel, a Nissen hut was rented out to him at the time for Rs. 5.

Suresh, who said his father had later purchased the hut, mentioned that the Nissen huts were so strong that his family had not faced a problem even to this day.

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