A tale of two cities Sunday Anchor

Old capital, new dreams

Mysore has seen several avatars, going through cycles of the good and the bad. Describing the capital of the erstwhile Mysore kingdom which was transferred from Seringapatinam (modern Srirangapatana) to the present city of Mysore after the fall of Tipu Sultan in the 4th Anglo-Mysore war in 1799, one of the British Commissioners noted: “Mysore, the headquarters of the district and the capital of the province, has a population of 73,000 and is, therefore, a considerable place, but is badly situated, and were it not for its being the seat of Sovereign, would soon lose the factitious importance that it now possesses … there are few good houses in the town, the majority being constructed of wattle and mud, while the Raja’s palace within the fort can scarcely be considered worthy of the name.” (T.P. Issar in The Royal City)

But within a span of 60 to 70 years during the regime of the later Wadiyars, notably Chamarajendra Wadiyar IX (1881-94) and Krishnarajendra Wadiyar IV (1902-40), Mysore emerged as a model city. Public buildings such as the Town Hall (1884), Maharaja’s Sanskrit College (1880s), the Oriental Research Institute (1891), Maharaja’s College (1889) and the law courts (1895), apart from palaces such as the Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion (1905), Cheluvamba Vilas (1910), which now houses the Central Food Technology Research Institute, the Amba Vilas Palace (1911-12) and the Lalitha Mahal Palace (1921) came to adorn the city skyline, along with well-planned layouts, enhancing its aesthetic beauty.

The establishment of the University of Mysore in 1916 led to the setting up of many other educational institutions and Mysore’s reputation as a centre for learning grew — more so under the later Wadiyars and their equally far-sighted Diwans; notably Diwan Seshadri Iyer, Sir M. Visvesvaraya and Diwan Mirza Ismail.

But after Independence, when the capital shifted to Bangalore and the democratically elected government replaced the institution of the Maharajas, Mysore’s importance declined. As Bangalore built on its vast industrial base established after Independence and emerged as an international IT hub and the Silicon Valley of India, the glory of Mysore was restricted to how it fared on the tourism front.

But in recent years the spill-over effect of Bangalore has had its impact on Mysore. The saturation of Bangalore, the skyrocketing real estate prices and unbridled growth and chaos have forced the government and even corporates to disperse and expand outside the capital city. And Mysore, with a population of a million-plus, is emerging as a preferred choice with its advantages of proximity to Bangalore, easy pace of life devoid of congestion and pollution and land availability at affordable rates, which translates into reduced operating and overhead costs for industries, cheap labour and a lower attrition rate.

This has attracted new investment from companies such as Infosys, which has developed the world’s largest corporate training centre on its Mysore campus. While investment from other IT or manufacturing majors are slow to come by, the city has spawned many start-ups in the IT and ITES sector, while it is increasingly being recognised as an electronic hardware manufacturing hub.

The software exports from Mysore was estimated at Rs. 2500 crore last fiscal, though it is dwarfed by Bangalore’s exports in excess of Rs. 1,00,000 crore. Mysore’s nearest competitor on the IT front among other Tier 2 cities is Bhubaneshwar with exports amounting to roughly Rs. 1,300 crore during the last financial year. Hence, Mysore is not lagging behind, say stakeholders.

The slow but steady expansion of industry has resulted in a perceptible demographic change in the city’s worker profile. Suresh Kumar Jain, general secretary of the Mysore Industries Association, says the city is attracting a trained and talented workforce, though not on the scale of Bangalore where the pay is higher.

Regional sentiment

But at another level, it has led to tensions at the grassroots level with proliferation of outfits seeking priority for local people in employment. Though on the fringes, those outfits occasionally threaten to disrupt the social harmony for which Mysore is known; the perceived anti-Kannada stance of the director of a leading research institute who was roughed up some time ago is a case in point. Since these outfits claim to espouse the cause of Kannada, politicians prefer not to take them on.

The urbanisation trends in Mysore have been backed by the growth of the service sector and penetration of financial institutions. Major players in real estate development have promoted Mysore as a “second home option”, which has found favour with investors with deep pockets from other cities. As a result, the real estate prices have increased in the past 10 years and are out of bounds of the local people and the salaried middle class. The city’s horizontal sprawl has consumed open spaces and even threatens the Chamundi Hills while commuting distance has increased from the suburbs to the city-centre. This has led to proliferation of apartments and vertical growth in a city which till recently was known for row houses and independent bungalows. The completion of the track doubling work between Mysore and Bangalore and conversion of the road between the two cities into a six-lane highway will reduce the commuting time and hasten the urbanisation process.

Heritage conservation challenges

But amid this churning, Mysore is not only striving to emerge from the shadows of Bangalore on the industrial front but is also seeking to retain its distinct identity as a royal and heritage city. The facets which make Mysore attractive in the first place — well planned layouts, gardens, roads, wide footpaths, over 250 heritage structures and its easy way of life, spanning the tourism and yoga industries — have to be conserved. While people want development, they do not want Mysore to go the Bangalore way.

To preserve Mysore’s reputation as a city with a blend of the traditional and the modern, activists of Mysore are striving to take a leaf out of Bangalore’s experience — of chaotic growth and unbridled urbanisation — and making efforts to stem the rot before it gets out of hand. This perception — to learn from the follies of other cities — is a sentiment being expressed by corporates as well.

The Confederation of Indian Industry, in its road map for Mysore’s industrial development, calls for a balance between preserving Mysore’s heritage value and speeding up the industrial development. This was echoed by key speakers at a seminar on IT and ITES and prospects for Mysore held recently. Kris Gopalakrishnan, immediate past president, CII, and co-founder and non-executive vice-chairman, Infosys Ltd., said people of Mysore should learn from the unplanned growth in other cities and preserve everything that is good about living in Mysore.

R. Chandra Prakash, a retired Professor of Commerce, University of Mysore, who has worked on urban development issues, and Bhamy V. Shenoy, founder of Mysore Grahakara Parishat, a citizens activist group, are crying hoarse on precisely the same issue.

Preserving the core

“We want to preserve and vitalise the core heritage zone of Mysore comprising the Amba Vilas Palace, Jaganmohan Palace, K.R. Circle, Dufferin Clock Tower, Town Hall and Devaraja Market. This calls for notifying heritage regulations and dispersing commercial activity to the periphery while pumping in resources to rejuvenate the core area. Strangely, the Mysore Master Plan 2031 has equated the core heritage zone with the central business district, which will only choke the area with traffic and increase human density leading to urban decay which is already visible,” Mr. Chandra Prakash says.

And with the concept of town planning reduced to approving residential layouts and the emphasis on functionality of buildings without any consideration for aesthetics to blend the present with the past, the city’s landscape is set to alter beyond recognition, compromising on its heritage value.

N.S. Rangaraju, a retired Professor from the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Mysore, who was also a member of the Heritage Sub-committee, believes that the city’s heritage will decay if the heritage regulations framed by the sub-committee was not notified. “It was submitted to the authorities two years ago and will strengthen conservation efforts as a law will be in place to protect them but the government is going slow on it.”

This is critical as heritage in Mysore is linked to tourism and the city receives 3.5 million visitors every year who keep the wheels of the local economy turning. C.G. Bethsurmath, who is the Commissioner for Archaeology, Museums and Heritage, said these guidelines had been submitted to the government and were in the final stages of getting approval. But besides built heritage, the natural landscapes like the Chamundi Hills and the city’s lakes — Kukkarahalli, Lingambudhi, Karanji and Dalvoy — are bearing the brunt of urbanisation.

Time is fast running out for Mysore to retain its heritage and way of life while on the development curve. The city’s many intellectuals, its innumerable technical and management institutes, software giants and educational institutions, now need to step up as the elected representatives do not see any value in heritage conservation unless it can be monetarily quantified.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2021 1:30:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sunday-anchor/old-capital-new-dreams/article6204839.ece

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