Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bangalore: The transformation from a sleepy town to booming metropolis

The sleepy little town that Bangalore was when I landed there in 1951 to join college has grown into a huge metropolis of 6.5 million people. It is now the third most populous city in the country. The transformation was slow to start with but gained rapid momentum with the IT explosion in the early nineties. The place that used to be called ‘Pensioners Paradise’ became ‘Silicon Valley of India’.

In October 2006 the Karnataka State Government decided to change the city’s name from Bangalore to Bengaluru. There is a tradition behind this. An 11th century Hoysala king, according to legend, was lost during a hunting expedition. Wandering hungry and tired, he came across an old woman who gave him boiled beans to eat. The king called the area ‘benda-kal-ooru’ which, in the local language Kannada means ‘place of boiled beans’. This tag became mutated to ‘Bengaluru’. Bangalore is its Anglicized version.

Bangalore was once, long ago, called ‘Auspicious City’. Then, ‘Land of Heroes’. Labels for the place in the modern times include ‘Garden City’, ‘Stone City’ because of the light gray granite available abundantly in the area, ‘City of Pubs’, ‘Floriculture Capital of India’, ‘Fashion Capital of India’ and ‘Fruit Market of the South’.

Different dynasties including Western Gangas, Cholas, Hoysala and Vijayanagara have ruled over the area, but the township was founded by Kempe Gowda I, who raised a mud fort there in 1537 A.D. The Bijapur army defeated Kempe Gowda III in 1638 and captured Bangalore. It was then bestowed on Shahji Bhonsle. But Bhonsle’s son Venkaji was vanquished by the Mughal general Kasim Khan in 1687. The Mughals sold the city to Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar of Mysore. In 1759 the then king of Mysore gifted it to his commander Hyder Ali. The British defeated Hyder’s son Tippu Sultan in 1799 at Sreerangapatana and restored Bangalore to the Mysore kingdom.

In 1809 the British moved their troops from Sreerangapatna to a large cantonment they built at Halsur (Ulsoor) on the North East of the old Bangalore town. This resulted in Bangalore growing as two distinctive segments – the old ‘City’ and the Cantonment.

The City was under Mysore rule. The Cantonment was part of the Madras Presidency and a major seat of the Raj in the South. It became a world of sahibs, soldiers and Anglo-Indians, of butlers, ayahs, malis and a retinue of servants, of horses, racing and clubs, of bungalows and gardens, of football, cricket, hockey, boxing and golf.

This scenario had not changed too much when I reached Bangalore Cantonment Station one June morning fifty-eight years back. The first thing that hit me was the cold. The elevation of Bangalore, which is located in the south-eastern part of Karnataka (formerly Mysore) on the Deccan Plateau (12.97° N 77.56° E), is a little over 3000 feet (980m) above sea level. Though warmer now than it was half a century back, the climate is still reasonably comfortable.

The place did not have many taxis or buses those days. I took a jutka (horse drawn carriage) to St. Joseph’s College Hostel on Lal Baugh Road; it was a semi-circular granite building that was a landmark. Along the way we did pass a few cars but mostly it was horse carts and hordes of bicycles. Bangalore then had a large two wheeler (no scooters) population. Rent-a-bicycle shops were quite popular.

Like me, many youngsters from different parts of India and abroad flocked to the cool, quiet and green city for studies. Even those days the place had good schools, colleges, and major research institutions. This base in educational facilities in the early days and its subsequent growth certainly contributed to Bangalore’s transition from a quaint little town to a vibrant knowledge and hi-tech capital.

With Independence the City and Cantonment were brought under one administration. The process of integration was slow but sure and Bangalore turned into a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. Today on the streets one can hear not only English, Kannada and other South Indian languages, but also Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and even, occasionally, French and Japanese.

One of the first visible impacts of Independence was the exodus of a friendly, colorful, and lively people who were part and parcel of life in Bangalore - the Anglo Indians. Usually they were thought of as engine drivers, secretaries and nurses. But the community had made commendable contributions to sports, defense services, music, and to the character of Bangalore itself.

The city’s communal harmony was a factor that helped its business boom. Two eminent men with great foresight – M. Visvesvarayya and Mirza Muhammad Ismail - paved the way for the progress that was to come.

Rail link to Madras was established and telegraph was introduced in the second half of 19th century. Early 20th century saw Bangalore becoming perhaps the first city in India to be electrified. It had major industries even before Independence. The most important one was Hindustan Aircraft (now Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) set up in 1940. There were several Americans attached to this establishment during WW II. They introduced softball game and Bangalore used to have a Softball League. Another American game, basketball, too was popular.

After Independence several Public Sector Undertakings and defense establishments came up. Bangalore was soon recognized internationally as an industry-friendly city and attracted several Indian and foreign investors. To man the new ventures, many bright young scientists, technologists and management experts from all over India moved in. It was a phenomenal growth. Today, according to one estimate, there are over 10,000 industrial units in and around the city.

All through the process of expansion, the city breathed through its two beautiful parks - Cubbon Park and Lal Baugh - and the Place Grounds. But the mini-garden circles at road junctions have mostly disappeared. The lakes in and around Bangalore – the major ones being Ulsoor, Sankey and Yedyur - too help. Then there are the open spaces of the Parade Grounds, and the city’s playing fields and stadiums which have produced many eminent sports persons of All-India and international fame.

During the first part of my college days, India Coffee House (now Indian Coffee House) on the MG Road was the place we used to frequent. It had a laid back atmosphere and excellent coffee and snacks at reasonable prices. One could sit there and talk for hours. When Parade CafĂ© opened on St. Marks Road around 1953, most of the college crowd shifted there. Occasionally we visited one of the billiards parlors, Old Bull & Bush on Brigade Road. That was where the star of Bangalore’s boxing days, Gunboat Jack used to hang around. This Afro American was on the skid row by early 1950s. Later the US Government shipped him back home.

Today pubs with saucy names have taken-over. The top bracket West End and modest Victoria were the only hotels to speak of half a century back; Woodlands and others opened later. Another one, Central Hotel near the Cubbon Park end of MG Road closed down by 1960. Bangalore is now jammed with luxury hotels but shortage of rooms is felt often.

The symbiosis of Bangalore nurtured diverse cultural activities and art forms. Of late these are showcased in an annual winter event called Bengaluru Habba. The mega show includes Carnatic music, jazz, performing arts, crafts including pottery and weaving and painting. Enough corporations and affluent people are around to extend patronage. A recent study shows that Bangalore is the second ranked city in India for millionaire homes – over a hundred thousand of them! Many of the rich are young.

Where have all the cute little bungalows and gardens gone? Several of them were demolished to accommodate towering glass fronted office buildings, lines of multi-storied apartment complexes, modern Malls, multiplexes and lounge bars. The city is bursting at the seams, spreading out in all directions. The skyline is changing almost daily. During a recent visit to Bangalore I lost my way at night in the Cantonment area which I used to know so well!

The vertical and horizontal expansion of the city brings problems in its wake -traffic congestion, pollution, criminal activity and so on. Civic amenities are severely stretched, be it power, water supply, street cleaning or road repairs. Infrastructure development is struggling to catch up with the fast mounting requirements.

The new International airport thirty kilometers away from the city at Devanahalli, Tippu Sultan’s birth place, is a major contribution to the development of Bangalore. Another critical project is the Metro Rail. It got off to a start almost a decade late. The first phase is expected to be completed in 2011.

Sixty years back Bangalore used to sleep by nine o’ clock at night. Today it is known as a city that never sleeps. A silent witness to this transformation is the Bugle Rock, an ancient granite formation that was Kempe Gowda’s watchtower. It is one of the several interesting sights in the area.


Related post: Bangalore: Of a club, a park and a Chief Secretary couple

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More wildlife photos by KO Isaac

© All Rights Reserved. KO Isaac.

Click to enlarge.

Also see:

Wildlife photos

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A rain tree of memories

The post SUMMER BEAUTY in Raji's Ramblings reminded me of a similar tree we had at Olavipe. There is nothing much to write about it except that it was there, on the western ‘muttam’ (courtyard) and it is a part of my childhood memories.

Presented below for identification is the photo of a rain tree (Samanea saman, also known as monkeypod) I took in Chennai. Raji’s post has some better images including a beautiful one of its flower.

As children we didn’t know the name of the tree. We called it ‘thanal maram’, meaning shade tree. And shade it did give. The sprawling canopy effectively blocked the sun rays except a few that filtered through. But it didn’t obstruct the west wind because the branching started at a height of 20 feet or so. Probably the lower branches were pruned when the tree was young.

Sometimes we used to climb the tree despite the warning that the branches were not very strong. To my knowledge however, no one has ever fallen off the tree. Anyway, for children scrambling up a low mango tree was definitely better than climbing the rain tree. (See: Mango Memories)

Those days there were carpenter families traditionally attached to us. They were free to work for others also. They would leave a set of tools at our place and come over when there was no employment elsewhere. They would find a job to do, some repair work, or make furniture whether it was required or not, or carve out a toy boat or the like.

The carpenters loved working under the shade of the rain tree instead of using the ‘thadippura’ (wood store) which was the place meant for them. The cool shade of the tree and the breeze that blew in from the Olavipe Lake were irresistible.

Among them, Paramu was the one we liked to have around most. He was small made, but fair and handsome and a fine person. And he had a never ending stream of stories. The elders used to joke that for every hour of work he would talk for two hours. But it was worth having him there. In his work he was a perfectionist.

The only people who disliked the rain tree were perhaps the women who swept the courtyard every morning. I believe the reason was that the pieces of dry flowers that fall to the ground get embedded in the sand. It was a difficult to clear them away.

Today there is a Prior mango tree near the spot where the rain tree once stood so proudly in full bloom. See the photo by Dr. Sanjay Parva below:

The wall like structure that you see on the right is the back of the
Cool stones

Click on photos to enlarge.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dr. Thomas Varghese Kalekattil – a man to ride the river with

One of the problems with old age is the trauma that comes with the passing away of friends. Reminiscences about the person who is no more – the good times together, shared moments of difficulties and happiness – cascade through the mind. These thoughts are mingled with the awareness that one’s time is coming too, may be soon, in any case not too far away.

I have been battling with such an ordeal from the 9th of this month. That was the day on which my very good friend Dr. Thomas Varghese Kalekattil (affectionately called ‘Aniyankunju’ or just ‘Aniyan’) passed on. He was 82. I was struggling to write this for the last eight days or so but could complete it only today.

Aniyan belonged to the famous Kalekattil family at Vallamkulam near Tiruvalla, Kerala. He was not only a reputed surgeon but an excellent physician as well. He was the chief of the KTCM Hospital owned by his family. I had made a mention of him and his hospital in an earlier post, Human nature: Potters save a life. For a long time he was our family doctor.

The best way to describe Aniyan is to use a phrase from the old Wild West days – a man to ride the river with. I could not find a proper definition, but it means someone you can depend on through thick and thin, a person who would stand by you no matter what.

There are so many memories of Aniyan that have crammed my mind these few days. He was keen on shikar. I had accompanied him on shooting trips on a few occasions, mainly to the large cardamom estate of our mutual friend, late Mathew Marattukalam, at Nelliampathy. Aniyan was there too at the event I described in my post Big game hunting: A tiger shoot .

When my elder daughter Rosemary received her First Holy Communion at SHY (Sacred Heart’s, Yercaud) some of my friends, including Aniyan, came along too. We had booked the entire Panchayat Guest House (there were no hotels at the remote hill station those days).

One day while we were there a car came to the guesthouse around noon. The visitor wanted to spend a few minutes there to have his lunch, which he was carrying. Someone objected, but Aniyan invited him to join us. We even offered him drinks, which was declined.

The man thanked us when he was leaving and also introduced himself. He was the Sub-Collector of Salem. Well, those were prohibition days in Tamil Nadu! (See Short Fiction: A Vodka Story). We could have been in deep trouble if the official had taken a different view.

I could go on writing about Aniyan. But it would make this post too long. It is sufficient to say that he was one of the finest men I have met in my life. And, for the matter of record I must add that, among other things, Aniyan was a Promoter Director of Apollo Tyres Ltd.

So long, Aniyan. See you later. Well, may be.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New hibiscus photos

For details about hibiscus, please visit

Gardening: Hibiscus, the Queen of Shrubs

All photos from Olavipe by Rejo.

Copyright reserved.

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Photos: Temple scenes

Photos by KO Isaac. ©All rights reserved.

Click to enlarge.

Related post:

Ashtalakshmi Temple, Chennai

Friday, June 12, 2009

Curry bashing: A view from Down Under

I am reproducing below a comment on my post Australia: Curry bashing and ‘convict stains’ received from Mr. A. Antony, an Indian who has been living in Australia for 15 years. My response to what he has written is also given.

“Many of the 'convicts' who were sent to Australia had only committed minor offences like petty thefts. Contrary to the belief of those outside, Australians are actually proud of their convict heritage. It has paved the way for an egalitarian culture. This pride is sort like the Syrian Christians in Kerala taking pride in being the descendants of Nampoothiris or Arab/Jews). This sense of egalitarianism is often reflected in the Aussie trait of "irreverence". To put it simply, Australians do not show respect on the basis of social hierarchies or on the basis wealth. This has been often perceived by outsiders as boorishness or lack of culture.

Now going back to the attack on Indian students in Melbourne - I do not think that the attacks were in general racially motivated. Most of the Indian students take up part-time work and often travel at odd hours thus making them vulnerable to such attacks. Now I am astounded by the storm kicked up by the Indian media and the wild allegations of racism. White Australians are implicitly accused but the footages from surveillance cameras show a mixture of Whites, Asians and those from other cultures as culprits. I would say that there is an element of racism in every society including India, Europe or Australia. But as an Indian Australian living in Sydney for the past 15 years I can vouch that the racism in Australia is certainly less than that in Europe or in India.

BJP activists burned an effigy of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Mumbai and for me this is an extremely offensive activity. Remember, this was not carried out by some extreme fringe organisation but by the main opposition party that was in power a few years before. Now let us reverse the scenario. If the effigy of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were burned by some fringe lunatics in Australia, let alone by the activists of a main political party, all hell would have been let loose.

As for the quality of education, most of the Indian students go to Australia not because of the dearth of high quality educational institutions in India. They do so for two reasons, either to get a better opportunity to immigrate to Australia or since Australian educational experience in valued by many companies in India or elsewhere. The first reason is ok but the second reason is unfortunate since the standard of a university degree in India is the same as that in any other developed country. Also at the very high level there are many Indian institutions which are comparable with the best in the world. My only complaint about these organisations is that sometimes they tend to look down upon their brethren in the less affluent universities.”

Here are my comments on Mr. Antony’s views:

1. In my post I did not say that that all the convicts shipped out from GB had committed serious crimes. The point is that Australia was considered to be the Penal Colony. The phrases ‘Convict Stain’ and ‘debris of British convictism’ are part of history and not my creation.

2. What is important is that the curry bashing, whether for racist factors or for criminal purposes, continues. The police have not been effective. It could be due to inadequacy of law and that is why the Victoria Government is considering amendments.

3. I should think that burning effigies is quite common in India across party lines.

4. Perhaps the Indian media is creating too much of a hype. But, if a few Australians were being beaten up in India on a continuous basis, what would be the reaction in that country?

5. Some reports say that the recruiting agents for Australian Universities are now offering more soap to prospective students from India.

6. India cannot permit its citizens from being ill-treated in other countries. The Australian Government has to take effective steps to stop curry bashing.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Photos: Birds in flight by KO Isaac

"I rise like a fire from the mortal's earth
Into a griefless sky
And drop in the suffering soil of his birth
Fire-seeds of ecstasy."


- Sri Aurobindo

From: PoetSeers

Photos by KO Isaac.
He is the President of the Madras Photographic Society.

©All rights reserved.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Related post:

Birds: Photos & Poetry

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Can you help identify these flowers form Olavipe?

This is 'thumpa'; there is a spider on it.

Tropical Medicinal Plants: Thumpa, a vanishing beauty

Periwinkle. See:

Health, Gardening: Periwinkle, a wonder plant


"Nanthyarvattam'. English name? Botanical name?

Locally this is called 'parijatham'. I don't think that is right.
English name? Botanical name?

Photos: Periwinkle by me, rest by Rejo.
Copyright reserved. Click to enlarge.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Blogging: Legal and other problems of ‘anonymous’ comments

This is in continuation to my earlier post, Bloggers, beware of legal implications.

Every blogger normally welcomes comments on what he writes. These comments are something more personal than letters to the Editor in the print media. Blog comments generate active interaction between the writer and the reader. Sometimes there is severe criticism of what is written; if objective, they should be appreciated. Occasionally mistakes are pointed out. For that too one has to be grateful. Most of the comments are of an appreciative nature.

Vast majority of the commenters prefer to use an identity. That is how it should be. Sometimes, however, there are valid reasons to assume anonymity – for instance, a government servant commenting on a controversial subject.

Anonymous comments could also be from a person trying to be helpful but prefers to remain unknown. One of the sweetest moments in my blogging life was when an anonymous commenter saved me from a faux pas. While writing about a VVIP, I wrongly gave his father’s name instead of his. Shortly after the piece was published I received an alert from the anonymous benefactor and the mistake was rectified.

On the other hand there are people who consider that anonymity grants them the license to state any rubbish that they want. Sometimes this happens when a person gets emotionally upset over views that are contrary to his own. In such cases the reader shifts gear from objectivity to subjectivity. I had this experience on my posts about the Sr. Abhaya Case.

The worst type of commenters are the ones who are just being cantankerous, speak without any basis, assume an air of infallibility, and take long paragraphs to state what could be said in a few sentences. They forget that a good comment should be succinct and rational.

I attracted such an anonymous character with my post J.J. Murphy: An Irish Jewel on the South Indian High Ranges. I was writing about a man who was a family friend and about whom I have done extensive research; it is an ongoing project.

Enter Mr. Anonymous (according to the information that I have, a retired teacher from S. India who now lives in London). For some reason, he wants to establish, without an iota of evidence, that the Murphy family might have escaped to Scotland during the Potato Famine in mid 19c. They were very much in Dublin at that time.

That I responded to those comments was my mistake. But there is a legal angle to it. The descendants of Mr. Murphy (some of them are in touch with me) could claim that I allowed the commenter to use my blog to discredit the family. I hope they don’t take this as a prompt.

Recently, an Anonymous (the same one I assume; I did not check the IP code) had the temerity to ask for third party information!

I have these suggestions to bloggers who receive ‘Anonymous’ comments:

1. Reject the comment straight away if it seems suspicious

2. Note down the IP number of the commenter.

Related posts:

How I write Blog posts

Blogday thoughts