The identity of the Cantonment is under threat as the government has changed the English names of several areas to Indian ones
You only have to go looking for a certain address in Cox Town or Richard’s Town to realise that none of the streets are crosses or mains as in the rest of Bangalore. Each street, be it a tiny lane or a long winding road, is named after, one can deduce, an English gentleman.
Clarke and Davis Road were named after a town planner and an administrative officer respectively. While Wheeler Road was named after General Wheeler, the Wheeler Pavilion inside Richard’s park takes its name from W.H. Wheeler, an engineer in the then British administration. As for Assaye Road and Meanee Avenue, they stand as reminders of battles fought far away by the Madras Sappers.
Pradeep E. Sinnas, the former president of the Richard’s Town Residents’ Association, says, “The area is planned the typical European way. Richard’s park is at the centre, facing the church (Holy Ghost Church). Wide tree-filled avenues stream out on all sides of the park.”
The nomenclature-based identity of the area is, however, under threat. In 2007, the State government changed many names to Indian ones. Parts of Cox Town were renamed Jeevanahalli and Sarvagnanagar, while Fraser Town became Pulikeshinagar.
“Changing Bangalore to Bengaluru was fine because the city’s name was always pronounced that way in the native tongue. But, introducing a completely new name to an old area does not seem to serve any purpose except confuse residents,” says K.G. Sashidhar, a retired employee of Bosch and vice-president of the association. “Residents remain oblivious to these changes and continue using the old names.”
Sashidhar lives in an old bungalow bought by his father in 1948 from a British owner, who constructed it originally in 1910.These old-times are seeing other changes creep into their beloved Cantonment.
Even a fairly secluded area such as Cox Town has seen a rise in the number of migrants, young office-goers and college students.Consequently, paying guest accommodations and hostels are becoming a common sight. As one resident put it, Everest theatre, an important landmark of the area, is a sign of changing times. The cinema used to screen only English films before, but now shows mostly Hindi ones.
“Even after independence, the neighbourhood used to have gentlemen in suits and ladies in frocks going for evening dances,” Pradeep recalls. “Old Bungalows are being converted into apartments,” sighs John F. Pinto, an industrialist and president of the association. “I used to live in Fraser Town, which has become highly commercial now. So has Cox Town. That’s why I moved to Richard’s Town, which has managed to retain its old flavour.” His house in Fraser Town was built in 1933 and bought by his family in 1950. Now, it has been sold off; he and his sons have their own separate apartments within the neighbourhood.Their most recent problem is a ‘Shaadhi Mall’ that is coming up within the tranquil of Richard’s Town.
“When chain stores and restaurants came in, sure they weren’t exactly in line with the character of the area, but they, at least, did not cause so much disturbance,” Sashidhar says. “Something like a wedding hall is noisy and invites huge crowds almost all year round, as this one is religion-neutral,” Shashidhar says. “It is not right to allow mixed land use — residential and commercial — in areas like ours.”
The residents do not have a problem with the ITC Infotech technology park as they recognise that the spot has an industrial heritage. “Located on Banaswadi Road, it used to house the Peninsular Tobacco Factory started in the 1920s, subsequently converted into Imperial Tobacco Company which became Indian Tobacco Company (ITC) post-Independence,” records the Bangalorewalla blog, run by Ronnie Johnson, a well-known chronicler of the city.
What is noisy and disturbing to one, is fascinating and fun to another. Jacqueline Colaco, a resident of Charles Campbell Road in Cox Town, and sister of Peter Colaco, who has written a book on Bangalore, finds it an engaging activity to simply sit on her balcony and watch the goings on at the Cox Town market and Doddigunta nearby. “The sheer variety of people, their contrasting appearance and different cultures is a joy to watch,” she says.
Confined to her apartment thanks to her rheumatoid arthritis, she even finds the funeral processions to the Kalpally cemeteries interesting. “One day, I would see a silent procession dressed in black going for a Catholic burial by a wealthy family. The next day would be a boisterous procession with drum beats, dancing and firecrackers, for a Hindu cremation of perhaps a low income worker.”
Charles Campbell Road ends at Doddakunte, home to lower income groups, working in the market nearby and as domestic help in the households of the locality. “We came here from Senji in Tamil Nadu, looking for a livelihood,” narrates R. Jayapal, a fruit vendor in the market.
“It may not be as lucrative as working in a larger market such as Kalasipalya or Jayanagar, but it is peaceful here and possible to lead a dignified life paying reasonable rents and sending our children to decent schools,” reasons Selvi, his wife. Her residence is a bungalow, restructured into one-bedroom portions to house eight families, paying rents of Rs. 4,000 each to the landlord for whom the house is ancestral property.
However, the old market complex that housed these vendors was demolished a decade ago, with the promise of building a newer, more modern one. “The old market was is a state of disrepair,” recalls 50-year-old Fareed, who sells vegetables from a makeshift shop opposite what used to be the market. A line of shops and carts on either side of him sell meat, fish, vegetables, greens and fruits. More vendors unload sacks of greens using carts from the Bangalore East railway station nearby, as a train whizzes past.
35-year-old Ashfan, also a vendor, has inherited his business from his father, who had been a vendor since the 1950s. He points to a yellow multi-storeyed apartment opposite. “This is what was constructed in the place of the market. I don’t think it is ever going to house government offices or our vegetable and meat shops.”