Homes and gardens

Symmetric plan, austere elegance

Facade of CAR headquarters

Facade of CAR headquarters  


The CAR headquarters close to Sirsi Circle was originally a hospital. A look by Meera Iyer

Close to Sirsi Circle on Mysore Road, the buildings belonging to the Karnataka Police Department stand out for their period architecture, rather like wildflowers in a wasteland. Prime among them is the building that houses the headquarters of the City Armed Reserve (CAR).

It is always nice to listen to the pride with which the staff of government offices housed in heritage buildings describe their digs. “Ours is a very old building! British period,” said one policeman at CAR proudly. “Maharaja’s times,” another beamed.

The building is popularly believed to have been a hospital originally. In fact, archival maps show that from the 1880s, this area housed the Lines of the Barr Infantry, a part of the Mysore State’s armed forces. Men of the Barr Infantry were employed as frontier police and to guard and escort treasures, escort prisoners, guard jails and so on.

Sometime in the early 1930s, these grounds became a part of the Reserve Police. Mysore’s first Inspector General of Police, Lancelot Ricketts, described the Reserve Police as ‘a reserve of well-disciplined and thoroughly drilled men who could be called out to any part of the province for the prevention of organised crime, and for quelling any extraordinary disturbance which may threaten the public peace.’

The HQ building was built sometime in this period. We do not know the exact year but it was certainly before 1935 since a map of that year already has the building marked on it.

As you enter the gates of the CAR HQ, all the din and clamour of Mysore Road are left behind. Instead, you drink in the large trees, the pre-Independence guest houses lining the road, the parade grounds and of course, the austere elegance of the building housing the HQ itself.

The stone building has a symmetric plan, with rooms surrounding a central, square courtyard. The building retains its original flat Madras terrace roofs and floors of granite slabs. The windows along the outer façade are simple, rectangular openings about 5.5 feet high. The ventilators above the doors have nicely-carved jalis or wooden screens. A beautiful cast iron spiral staircase manufactured by Richardson and Cruddas of Bombay (now Mumbai) leads to the terrace.

Based on the construction, it appears that sometime in the past, probably before the 1960s, the building was extended at the back. As a result, it now has two courtyards and also a basement that accommodates all the needs of a fully-fledged office of a police department.

Striking feature

The most striking feature of the building is the clock tower. Clock towers were something the British loved to erect in all the towns they held, usually in some prominent location. These quickly caught the fancy of other rulers and clock towers soon became popular across India.

As clock towers go, the one in the CAR HQ is rather minimalist. A short, square turret in stone, with only the merest traces of ornamentation, it is certainly more imposing in appearance, perhaps even faintly forbidding, rather than decorative. The brass clock that it once housed has now been replaced by an electronic version. Inside the tower, the date 1st January 1937 carved on a cement step suggests that some repairs or additions were probably carried out here on that date.

Cannons guarding the entrance are of course, de rigeur. Two brass cannons stand on either side of the main entrance, and two larger, probably iron cannons stand in the garden, all of them unfortunately painted black. I was pleased to see two more unusual historical artefacts standing guard here in the form of herostones flanking the door. These are also painted, this time in bright blue and white.

(The author is Convenor, INTACH Bengaluru, and a researcher)

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:34:15 AM |

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