Bangalore in the Nineties….



This morning, as I walked in Forest Park, I inhaled the heady scent of the magnolia blossoms, and though I am not a nostalgic person usually, the scent evoked memories of what I call the "pre-IT Bangalore"…the sleepy, lovely city that we moved into, in 1988. One of the loveliest memories from those days is that of inhaling the scent of the Sampige trees as I walked, and cycled, in Cubbon Park…

Then, there were not too many apartments around; it was we, who lived in such apartments, who were the newly-arrived interlopers. At many parties, I would hear the complaints about "these flat-living people" from the old, established, bungalow-owners of the city. Those who owned bungalows had not yet had the phenomenon of their children emigrating, and then, their own aging and being unable to maintain their properties. But it had already begun; as I cycled through the leafy lanes of Richmond Town in the early nineties, I could already see bungalows being demolished and apartments coming up in their place. Bangalore Club was a lovely, serene place, not overlooked by any badly-designed flyover that needed traffic signals on top of it!

The Outer Ring Road did not exist; towns/villages such as Bellandur, Sarjapura, and Whitefield were not a part of Bangalore then. Traffic, obviously, was a tenth of what it is now, and I had no "green guilt" in those days, though I was a keen cyclist; I would also drive far and wide, visiting friends in Sadashiva Nagar or Koramanagala….enjoy going to Russell Market to buy the vegetables (and the wonderful cut flowers!) once a week, and browsing around the picturesque Adams Square area, too, often finding antiques, sometimes at bargain prices.

Brigade Road had already become a one-way street, but neither Richmond Road nor Residency Road were; since we lived in a tiny lane that connected both, it was lovely to go as I wished.

Johnson Market (even then, it was one of the most expensive markets in the city!) was a tree-shaded arcade of shops and I was soon good friends with most of the shopkeepers there. I’d stop by at Koshy’s kiosk on the way back, and buy some pastries and (my favourite) lemon tarts from there. (I recently bought some there, for nostalgia’s sake, and they were frozen ones, and not half as good.)

Richmond Circle, and Ashirwadam Circle WERE real "circles". Cubbon Park didn’t have that awful, huge fencing all around it. Vikasa Soudha didn’t exist.

The minuses were there, too. The bus system was abysmal, and one could (I did) wait an hour or more at a bus stop for a bus that never materialized. But certainly, the roads were in better condition, and the Government did not have this craze for cutting down the trees and building roads, roads, roads, for motorized transport, at the cost of the cyclists and pedestrians. I’d cycle to Commercial Street often…and browse around the bylanes there. Most of the shops would open at a leisurely 10 am, and shut again at 1pm…reopen at 4 or 4.30pm…and by 8.30pm, were all shut again. Commercial Street was…certainly less commercial! I remember a strong presence of ladies of easy virtue in Grant Road (now Vittal Mallya road)….and their even soliciting auto drivers who came to pick up the children from the four schools in the Good Shepherd complex on Convent Road.

We had neighbours who had just sold their huge house on Brigade Road and moved in opposite our flat, and their house still existed then. Alas, I was not interested in birds at that time, but certainly, the trees of Bangalore fascinated me. I used to contribute small write-ups to the recently-launched Bangalore edition of the Times of India, and to the Deccan Herald too..and could walk up to both offices on M G Road. I was able to use the excellent reference library at the Times of India, and remember spending hours leafing through lovely books like T P Issar’s
"Trees of Bangalore" and also looking at the various bungalows he’d photographed and listed…and finding that some of them were coming down.

We didn’t need Heritage Walks to discover our city; we just went to Basavanagudi, to the various temples around the Cavalry Road area in Ulsoor, and walked in Lalbagh. I taught my young daughter to drive in front of the Attara Kacheri building…it would be deserted in the mornings! I wrote a whimsical piece about the High Court and the Vidhana Soudha buildings facing each other. When one of the constables, He of the Mighty Moustache, died trying to save a child in a traffic accident, he was someone I knew, and wrote about, and the centre-page middle was published in the Deccan Herald.

There were NO malls…we had shopping at Brigade Road, Commercial Street, and perhaps Jayanagar Shopping Complex. They gave their own unique character to a city that did not find the need to imitate Singapore or any other city.

Going to Chowdiah, or to Fort High School, was not the impossible chore that it is today, and I started enjoying theatre in Bangalore quite early. I also went to a lot of art exhbitions at what was then Sakshi Gallery, and I still remember Balan Nambiar’s metal sculpture on Lavelle Road….and getting to meet him and know him.

This sense of the city being large enough to accomodate a lot of people, and yet being small enough for me to know the people I wanted to, was one of the things I loved about Bangalore.

Certainly, I do feel that "development" in Bangalore has been quite a disaster; we are now paying more and more for less and less. Perhaps, if Bangalore had not become such a "wealth-creating" city, with one politician constructing an airport to the north-east of the city, and the IT czars demanding high-speed access to it by razing broader roads through the greenery that the city was fortunate enough to possess, I feel that our quality of life would have been far better.

But what’s happened is over; Bangalore today is a burgeoning city, its infrastructure creaking at every turn, with corruption and inefficiency dealing a double whammy to our dreams of a "world-class city". A strong underworld community has come into being, along with the wealth, and most of us are lucky not to come into contact with it, most of the time.

Oh, my goodness…what a lot of memories just one whiff of a floral scent can bring!



  1. sabine calkins says:

    Very well written and observed. I lived in B’lore in 1964 – 1966 during my high school years – what a magical time! Now the internet allows me to reminisce, bridging time and space in mere seconds. I call that progress πŸ™‚ – what I read and see of the new B’lore is just sad. I loved those trees!! … those bungalows, those dusty streets, cycle rikshaws…. there were no high-rise buildings at all…. and I don’t remember any in 1978 either when I last visited.. Thank you Deepa, I read all your articles.
    Sabine, near Seattle

  2. Bart Gomes says:

    My memories are towards the end of the 90’s but almost the same! Thank you for the memories, Deepa…

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