History & Culture

INTACH’s book on Bengaluru

INTACH publication ‘Discovering Bengaluru: History. Neighbourhoods. Walks’ has recently hit the stands. The book, written and edited by Meera Iyer, writer, researcher and Convenor INTACH, is part history and part a walking-guide, as the author herself puts it. “It tells the story of streets and houses that people live in and the markets they go to. It brings up the kings and their battles, wars and dynasties and about events and people with a larger narrative of the State. It has a perspective on the local, and this is where it differs from the books already available on Bengaluru,” says Meera Iyer.

On speaking about the necessity of having such a book on Bengaluru Meera says, INTACH had to showcase to the people that the city has a long and diverse history. “We have so many layers from so many different times, dynasties and cultures. We are tired of hearing people say that Bengaluru is a city with not much past or heritage. This book reverses this notion with narratives on amazing buildings, parks, trees and lakes, and some unique intangible heritage.”

More than 225 visuals including archival and illustrated maps, documents, archival photographs and new photographs are used in the 339-pages. This includes narratives on Malleswaram, Fraser Town, Basavanagudi, Ulsoor, Whitefield, Sampangi kere and Lalbagh amongst others. There are also contributions from Hita Unnikrishnan, Harini Nagendra, Krupa Rajangam, Karthikeyan Srinivasan and others, with a foreword by Chiranjiv Singh, former UNESCO Ambassador.

Meera has reached out to a host of people for photographs. “We accessed a lot of archives and many were also willing to share their old photographs and postcards with us. We also redraw maps to help illustrate some things better,” she says.

It was with INTACH’s ‘heritage walks’ started 11 years ago that one could assess people’s earnestness to be part of it to ‘feel connected’ with the city, be it old Bengalureans or newer residents. “When one walks to see a building or hears about a school built lovingly by a great scholar, or when you know that a battle took place where you do your shopping now, it makes you think differently, and see it in a new light. Fresh journeys of discoveries, that is what this book sets out to do, especially through walks,” says Meera. Hence, the Pete, Kote, Cantonment, Basavanagudi, and Malleswaram were a must-add. And of course Bengaluru’s trees and lakes, and the popular Labagh! “As for Whitefield, a place that was initially set aside for people to do bee-keeping, breed sheep and grow vanilla is now a technology park!”

It took the writer nearly five years to get ‘Discovering Bengaluru’ on record. It is a history of the city told through the histories and stories of some of its older neighbourhoods. “So we are really focusing on the stories of the streets, on the people who lived there, on the events that have happened there, on buildings you can see, touch and feel for yourself. By its very nature, the book encourages you to go out and explore the city by walking through it because that's the best way to get a feel,” says Meera adding that the book straddles between the academic and the popular.

As a former academic herself Meera says she understands the value of original research. At the same time she wanted a book that would be accessible to everyone. So although it does of course draw on previous literature on Bengaluru, there is also a fair amount of original research and new information, along with a fairly exhaustive bibliography for anyone who wants to read or know more.

“Researching was just fun part of the entire exercise,” adds Meera who had to talk to old-time residents and their descendants. Recording heritage in a country like ours is not easy, according to INTACH, simply because resources and information are often not accessible. “This book, for example, involved transcontinental help. Some references have come from journals found in Canada, others from some files in the British Library in the UK or from a library in the US! And detective work included poring over old maps and combining that with information gleaned from old paintings. A classic example of this is the work Harini, MB Rajani (from NIAS) and I did on Lalbagh to find out its old boundaries. This research, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Current Science earlier, has also been mentioned in this book,” says Meera.

For your copy of the book - intach.blr.book@gmail.com

Celebrating the old

Commenting on the merits of ‘Discovering Bengaluru’ Chiranjiv Singh says while it celebrates the old, it does not lapse into nostalgia, but rejoices the present too. “In spite of the inevitable destruction and galloping increase in population, there is still lot of historical Bengaluru left that is brought with interesting details in Discovering Bengaluru.”

Globalisation is not new to the city, as the book rummages on all details. “Roman coins have been found in Yeshwantpur, evidently the inhabitants of this area have had trade links with the wider world. Lalbagh’s wide acclimatisation and dissemination of plant species is another dimension to the earlier globalisations,” observes Singh. Singh comments that decades ago public buildings were being destroyed thoughtlessly by the Government. “Orders to display Sir M Visvesvaraya’s portraits in offices were issued by the Government, which also issued orders to demolish his house! When I had suggested that the house be preserved as a memorial to Sir MV, it wasn’t accepted. But the name of the building was changed from LIC Building to Visvesvaraya Towers which was designed by Charles Correa,” he recollects.

The keres or the lakes

* Hita Unnikrishnan, Harini Nagendra and Manjunatha have written eloquently in the book on the Sampangi Kere (lake) which chronicles just how integral this lake once was to the city's culture and livelihood. Kanteerava stadium stands on this lake now, and the original Kere dates back to the mid-16th century built by chieftain Hiriya Kempegowda.

* Karanji Kere by the early 1900s had reduced to small pools amidst mud with the coming of piped water. So residents of the new extension of Basavanagudi got it filled up with mud for fear of it becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

* The book also talks of Kempambudhi Kere which is not lost but has been forgotten to a great extent, even in neighbouring Basavanagudi. There have been efforts from NGOs and the city administration to restore it.

Did you know

* Binny and Co had introduced electric lighting in their oil mill in the Pete area way back in 1891 itself by attaching a dynamo to the oil-fuelled engines that ran their oil-pressing machinery

* Conservancy Lanes were built in the city to allow access to backyards of houses where workers came along these lanes to remove ‘night soil’ or human excreta to be disposed off in cesspits

* Fort High School at Chamarajapete had its origins in 1800s, although its building came up in 1907. Several eminent personalities as cricketer GR Vishwanath, freedom fighter HS Doreswamy Iyengar, Kannada poet TP Kailasam and former Chief Minister Kengal Hanumanthaiah studied there

* The Albert Bakery on Mosque Road has been operating since 1902, and has remained one of the oldest in Bengaluru

* Lalbagh was once a battle ground, a mango orchard, a royal garden, a botanical garden and even had a zoo since 1866 started by superintendent John Cameron who brought in a tiger cub, orangutans, bears, and rhinos besides innumerable birds from Australia and Singapore

* Halasuru or Ulsoor is said to be named after Halasina hannu, the jackfruit growing area. A monkey is said to have thrown a jack to the ground and a curious man dug up the place to find a shivalinga there that was installed at the Someshwara temple

* Like Basavanagudi that takes its name from the presiding deity Basava, Malleswaram was named after Kadu Malleshwara or the Forest Shiva. The neighbourhood sports one of the oldest examples of adaptive reuse with the old old swimming pool converted into dhobi-ghats spread over 6 acres with nearly two lakh clothes washed here everyday

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 2:20:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/intach-bengaluru/article30027591.ece

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