Shantinagar, Bangalore: In Conversation with Mr. Alan Machado
A series of major events in the history of Bangalore has lead to the origin of the present settlement. Bangalore, the cosmopolitan city has a deep layer of history buried under its surface. The shift in paradigm started after the fall of Tipu in 1799, when it was considered necessary to station British troops in Mysore. The Duke of Wellington, who was the Military Commander, decided upon Srirangapatna itself as the ideal place. Although, the mosquito menace and the consequent outbreak of malaria in Srirangapatna necessitated finding alternative accommodation for the troops. The Duke of Wellington was not impressed with Bangalore presumably on account of its water shortage, while Srirangapatna had a plentiful supply of it. However after his departure from India in 1804, the Supreme Government vetoed his opinion and steps were taken to shift the troops to Bangalore. The environs of the village of Ulsoor furnished vast vacant grounds for the settlement of British troops and thus the year 1809 witnessed the foundation of a military station in Bangalore.
“The old map (Refer Map 1) shows a number of military establishments within the Cantonment boundary separated by expanses of open ground. The military retained large areas for its own use: parade grounds, barracks, messes, and bungalows for officers. To this day, the main parade ground lies in the centre alongside the main arterial road, South Parade, now renamed Mahatma Gandhi Road (M. G. Road). North and South of it are residential colonies for civilians. These localities are called “towns” and were named after British officials who probably had some role to play in their development, for instance, Langford, Richmond, Fraser, Benson etc.
Richmond and Langford Towns are located south of M. G. Road. Like other towns, they were made up of neat bungalows located within compounds, with trees and gardens. These towns were inhabited mainly by Europeans and Anglo-Indians. They were largely self-contained, with a park, open grounds, market, church, schools, and shops. Green spaces separated them from each other, and a road or two linked them.” says Mr. Machado.
While reviving some memories, Mr. Alan described the neighbourhood of Shantinagar in its glorious past. “Kempe Gowda, was an agricultural chieftain from Magadi, a town 25 kms from Bangalore. While establishing the city of Bangalore in 1537, he commissioned building of numerous lakes in and around the settlement, connected to each other. This way, the excess of one lake would flow into another. The mud tank at Shantinagar, was one such lake. The present day Hockey Stadium at Shantinagar sits on the ground where once the lake used to be.” details Mr. Machado while sketching a rough map of the neighbourhood. Since Bangalore lies on a rock bed and the lakes are depleting at a fast rate, the city has become water deficient and is feared to run out of groundwater in about a decade.
“Langford Road, while connecting the town to the pette, also formed a bund which provided water from Mud Tank (Refer Figure 1) to fields and vegetable gardens on the south side. This area supplied fresh produce to Johnson Market. Fresh vegetables and eggs were also carried in baskets by vendors to residents. Egg and vegetable vendors would provide door to door service almost everyday. Along with this, there was a Muslim baker who used to come home to sell bread and occasionally biscuits. The milkman (his name was Kempa) also used to come with the cow to the house.” Mr. Alan, further described the slow life of the city in the 1950’s and 60’s, saying; “There were hardly any auto-mobiles and rickshaws before the 60’s. The first cycle rickshaws began to ply in the early 60’s. The other option for travelling was by car or on foot. The raddi waalah (local waste recycler) used to come on his bicycle and trade the useful waste with cash or kind. Families employed a number of servants, performing different functions, like house cleaning, cooking, gardening, washing of clothes etc. These servants lived on the south side of Langford Road in a small colony.”
Describing the typical settlement pattern, Mr. Machado says, “Houses (Refer Figure 2 & 3) were built with brick and mortar with the standard larger ones built on a symmetrical pattern, with bedrooms on either side of the sitting and dining rooms, a verandah and portico in front, and the kitchen in the rear. Toilets, located in the rear, were accessed through the bedrooms. They had an outer door for the cleaning woman. Behind the larger bungalows were servants’ quarters and a stable for horses. These houses were serviced by a Conservancy Lane at the back.
A variety of fruit trees grew in the house compounds. These attracted birds and small animals like squirrels. Houses had large open windows and plenty of ventilation. Because they were built above ground level, and the good drainage system for rain water, floors were never damp. With such a large military presence, the Cantonment had the character of an English military camp located in an Indian setting. Its predominant civilian population gave it a European veneer. Although, it could only function with the large numbers of Indian servants, artisans, vendors, and labour that lived in the poorer sections, conveniently located to but segregated from the two areas.”
An effective civic authority and a more or less homogeneous society took care of common places which were seen as community spaces in the past. Over the years, there has been a large influx of new residents, from different backgrounds and affluence levels. The pressure on limited spaces has been enormous. Single house on large compounds have given way to a multi storied apartment building. Where once a single family lived, today there are more. Office blocks have also come up on such spaces. Traffic and parking cars choke roads designed for far lighter traffic. Pavements have disappeared. Mud Tank has become a hockey stadium, a playground, and a large office building.
Today, the Assembly Constituency Shantinagar is an area of 25 sq km and has 245,000 inhabitants. The wards 117 (Shantinagar) and 111 (Shantalanagar) are included and cover the areas around Johnson Market, Hockey Stadium up to Shantinagar Bus Station, one of the most important bus stations in the city. A lot has changed in Shantinagar since the city’s inception, and a lot is yet to change.