Mangalore styled Houses- Heritage that refuses to fade

All around me are skyscrapers. But I have hopes. I turn left and find myself on a narrow cobbled street with laterite stone bricked hedges and bougainvillea blooms. I walk down the street, find myself on a dead end and turn left again. More apartments, huge bungalows with manicured lawns greet me but I plunge on. Another dead end and lo just to my right I finally see it- a Mangalore tiled house nestled among coconut trees complete with a verandah, tiled roof and the red oxide flooring. The house is dilapidated, the clay tiles are broken, doors are in shambles but the house or what is left of it is still beautiful. The Tulsi in front of the home is thriving – no doubt some passerby continues to water this holy plant everyday.

 

Mangalore tiled roof 20071228

The house eerily  reminds me of my grandpa’s home now in the hands of a stranger who has plans to convert the place in to a seven storied apartment. Grandpa’s home was a delight surrounded by Jackfruit,Mango and Coconut trees and two wells. There was a spacious veranda- a pillared gallery with grilled windows and sit-outs  that opened out to them. I remember counting stars at night, swinging my legs out of these sit-outs.

The verandah led to a living room that had multiple doors. Each door led to a different room-bed room, storage but not the god’s room.The devarakone or the god’s room was at the center of the living room ,huge with miniature paintings of various gods and goddesses. There were various wooden boxes where my grandfather kept small deities and the sacred saligramas. Each morning the gods would be taken out of their boxes for the pooja and dutifully kept back -intact once the pooja would be over.

The kitchen  was huge, the ceiling above made of wood with plenty of storage space to stock food items . I remember the storage room above the ceiling. It was always noisy at night, squeaking, perhaps due to mice foraging for food . So there was no question of sneaking in to the kitchen for Jaggery or milk powder at nights. Who wanted a mouse accidentally falling down on their heads ?

The wooden panels, the clay tiles,  the verandah, grilled windows,laterite bricks, the lime plaster finish – these features kept the house refreshingly cool. It was a delight to sleep on the cold red oxide floors. They were cool to touch and provided the perfect setting for the afternoon slumber. The Mangalore tiles overhead kept the sun out. If there was a slit, we kids knew about it immediately. The dark rooms would be lit with a small shaft of light pouring in from these broken tiles.

Structures like these are slowly disappearing from Mangalore giving way to multi storied apartments. But Mangalore still has some of these- the government colleges, schools and libraries.  They don’t scream for attention like the skyscrapers but they can be found in nooks and corners still. Go near them and you will be lured by their old world charm and simplicity. For a few seconds at least you will leave behind the rush life and embrace the slowness that only a clay tiled home can offer.

–Usha

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Lake to a stadium- Sampangi Lake’s journey

The sports stadium near Cubbon Park, Hudson Circle entrance is named as Kanteerava. Kanteerava was a soldier who challenged the greatest of wrestlers in the city of Mahamallapuram -Rajaraja Chola and defeated him. I admired this story and was rather proud of it as well- a common solider defeating a royal wrestler and Bangalore stadium remembering the deed and naming a sports stadium after him.

sampangi

Things however changed when I went to the Kanteerava Stadium Walk organized by Neralu with walk guide Hita Unnikrishnan. I learnt that the stadium was once a 35 acre beautiful lake boasting of trees, open spaces. It was a source of water for the British Cantonment of Bangalore and for the Pete(old city)residents of the city during the colonial period. The story of how a splendid lake that supported different communities- fishermen, brick-makers,horticulturists,agriculturist transformed in to a stadium is an unfortunate one.

Prior to 1870 the lake had Ragi and paddy fields, the north and south spaces boasted of gardens. Kalyanis(tanks) were all around the lake, full of water as they were continuously recharged from Sampangi kere. The lake was protected as both cantonment and pete were dependent on it. The water channels from the lake fed Miller tanks that fulfilled the water requirements of  cantonment. The lake had religious significance too for pete residents. The Vanhikula Kshatriya community of pete used the lake during their famous 9 day karaga festival. The lake deposits were used in the creation of the holy pot Karaga.

After 1896 the Hesarghatta reserviour started supplying water to the cantonment and so the dependency of the lake ceased. Things slowly started changing.  The wetlands started getting used for institutions, playgrounds etc. A brewery had already come up in the area where once lush paddy fields thrived. The British were interested in maintaining the aesthetics of the lake. So any kind of digging, pits, excavation without the government approval was not allowed. They also drained a part of lake and used it as polo grounds.

On the other hand horticulturists,landowners  depended on the waters petitioned to the government of Mysore saying that they were not getting enough water as the water channels were either closed or diverted. They wanted to deepen the channels. Due to a slew of buildings not to mention a brewery in the lake vicinity, the British Civil and Military Station were opposed to this. The discussions continued, yet at the end of 1935 the hitherto 35 acre lake had become a small tank. I assume that the tank was not fully closed and let out because the Karaga festival still needed the lake.

By 1949 the lake had transformed in to an indoor stadium. The farms and kalyanis had given way to slums and layouts. Many of the communities migrated- Hita showed us a cattle rearing community still existing near the lake vicinity.There is only one dried up kalyani now- it is now being used for martial arts training.

If I close my eyes I can sense how this traffic filled streets and the stadium might have looked way back in 1900 with a lake on one side, cubbon park at the other end. Full of open spaces, trees it would have been a micro ecosystem by itself. Sigh… I can only hear the noise of development now. Guess good things do not always last.

–Usha

 

References:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Sampangi-Lake-From-a-thriving-lake-to-sports-arena-today/articleshow/51677090.cms

 

 

The Summer Residence of Tipu Sultan

I touch the teak wood and I am in awe. I am whisked 200 years back because that was when this teak wood became a part of this summer palace. Sometime in 1781-1791, the foundation stone would have been placed,next would have been the stone walls, the wood pillars, beams, the intricate brackets supporting the beams, the decorative arches- what forethought would have gone in designing this ‘Abode of Happiness’ for Tipu Sultan, the then ruler of Mysore kingdom.

Tipu Sultan’s father Hyder Ali started this summer palace in 1781.After his death, his son took over and by 1791 the palace got built. Today more than 200 years later, only a fraction of the palace survives. But what remains, is enough to show you the magnificence of the old palace.

tipu-palace

From outside when I look I imagine that it was one single storey. But as I look closer at the Indo-Islamic structure I gather that it is two storeyed. The misconception resulted because of the teak pillars that stretched out from ground to the first floor giving it the appearance of a single tiered building.

The ground floor houses the museum of Tipu Sultan today. You learn plenty of things here. For instance you may have known that Tipu was an able administrator, was proficient in several languages and boosted the economic prosperity in the State. Yet you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that he was the pioneer of early rockets. The early rockets during the Tipu era  had a bamboo/wood pole with an iron cylinder containing the explosives and a rocket man used to light it. The rocket would shoot up or travel horizontally, light up the ammunition, scatter horses and were a menace to the British. These rockets caused heavy casualties in the British army during the Polilur war which Tipu won.

After Tipu’s death in 1799 in the final British-Mysore war, the British took care to take these Mysore rockets along with them. They were studied, improved upon and were used in the wars against Napoleon.

tipu-summer-palace

From the ground floor there are stone steps to take you upstairs to the cantilever balconies and the Zenana quarters. Tipu apparently held his durbar here and the rooms above(Zenana quarters) were for the ladies to tune in to the court proceedings. The beautiful floral motifs on the ceiling and on the walls makes you realize how splendid the palace would have looked with teak-wood pillars, wooden banisters and pigmented motifs covering the bare walls and ceilings.

The tour of this palace takes you a mere 40-50 minutes. Located on Albert Victor Road it is open on all days. Combine the visit with the nearby Tipu’s armory and the old fort.

–Usha

Kashmiri Carpets- A heritage worth possessing

The passion in the young chap at the Asian Arts Emporium was evident. He spoke about carpets as if they were living, breathing buddies of his. “Look at the colors madam. Just walk around and you will see the carpet changing color,” he gushed. This was true as I walked around the hand woven Kasmiri carpet, I could see it altering from dark to light shades. ” Isn’t it magic madam? No machine-made rug can give you such results,” he said smiling proudly.

rug-1088557_640

Kashmiri Carpets with a Persian touch:

Though it is unclear as to when the carpet weaving was introduced to Kashmir, it is evident that the artists were brought in from Persia to train the weavers of Kashmir. The Mughals were responsible for its growth in India. ” Each community in my village is engaged in the weaving. And each of their patterns are distinct,” said the salesman. The colors were subtle, the patterns were varied, some floral, some geometric in the numerous wool and silk carpets that he displayed. The oriental rugs can have varied patterns- flower motifs,trees, tribal designs, curvilinear/abstract, animal figures etc. This again is unique to the area from where it originates.

Machine-made versus handmade:

The machine made rugs  stand no chance with the handmade rugs when it comes to quality and durability. Turning the handmade rug on its back he showed me the weaving and the knots made by hand. The knots were uneven. ” “Even if one knot breaks madam there is no damage to the rug,” he said and added,” But the same cannot be said for the machine-made ones as parts of the carpet may unravel if there is a damage to the knots.”

While a good quality machine-made rug can last for 20 odd years a handmade rug is a heritage that can be passed down from generation to generation. The older it is the more expensive it gets! Plus rugs before the invention of synthetic dyes are truly antique and fetch a good value if you have the heart to sell it.

Dust generally causes no problem with handmade carpets. The pile is inclined, so it dusts itself off from the dirt. ” “Any stains can be easily removed from the carpet by rubbing lemon juice,” said the young chap.

I didn’t buy anything because I could not afford the 50,000 Rs price tag attached to the handmade carpet. This is the only disadvantage that I could come up with, the price. Machine made stuff are cheaper. But money is a small factor to consider when you understand that it takes the weavers 7-8 months to prepare a carpet. So if you love collectibles and money is not a problem, then this is one heritage item that is worth possessing.

 

 

 

 

Bengal Muslin- Cloth that fits inside a small bamboo

Soft as silk, soft to touch and wear, so delicate that you felt light wearing it and so gracious that it was fit for the Kings and Emperors. When daughter of Aurangzeb wore it she was criticized for wearing a transparent dress although she was clothed in seven layers of the material. Can you take a guess as to what I am talking about? It is the famed Bengal Muslin, cotton but not just cotton-sheer fine cotton.

Bengal Muslin

Bengal Muslin

What happened to Bengal Muslin:

A story of treachery, the disappearance of Bengal Muslin from the popular scene of textiles is tragic.Originating in Dhaka, Bangladesh it was not only exported to the Arab world but also grew popular in the western countries especially in the 18th century. Bengal produced wide variety of muslin from plain to thick,striped or fine. The soil, the temperature, the waters of Bengal rivers and not to mention the weavers of Bengal all contributed to the fine quality of Muslin it produced. So where did this delicate hand spun fabric disappear?

Until 1757, there was no monopoly of any company on the trade scene of Dhaka. There were European traders exporting the products out, the weavers earned handsomely and the competition among the traders only made things better for the weavers and families. But after 1757, the East India Company took over. The policies, laws, combined with the industrial revolution and the import duty exercised on the Indian textiles did not make things easier for the weaving community. They became dependent on the Company.The flooding of factory produced muslin did not help either. In 1825 the factories closed and the weavers were rendered out of work. The British textiles had dominated the markets!

The future:

Today realizing that most old things are gold- some enterprises are working with Bengal farmers and weavers to produce this fine gold. One of them is an organization called the Mahatma Gandhi Gramudyog Seva Sansthan(MGGSS). Established in 2010 it is trying to revive Muslin,Khadi, hand looms and to promote desi varieties of cotton that have lower eco footprint compared to the foreign varieties of cotton. Their recent exhibition at Ants Cafe showcased some of the collections like soft stoles, kurtis, plain fabric, dupatta, dhotis, sarees etc.

“We have been able to bring Bengal Muslin of a quality up to 500 counts. We are researching to produce yarn counts of more,” said Rubi Rakshit, one of the representatives of the MGGSS passionately. The increase in counts is a depiction of how fine the garment is !

One of their challenges has been to create awareness about hand looms and thereby increase the demand of these traditional crafts. Only then there is profit for farmers, weavers,dyers,spinners etc- all through the production chain.

So as a city dweller the maximum that you can do is to visit such exhibitions and sales, understand a bit more about this rich heritage and choose to support such enterprises.  And spread the message further.

To know more about this project check out Arup Rubi Rakshit page.

References:

The Song of the Shirt-Jeremy Seabrook

 

 

 

Exploring Cantonment with Kids

 

Cantonment

A tale of two cities in Bangalore,” says Aryan in our walks. The 10 year old kid was surprised to find two different cultures existing in the city-one the old pette and the other, towns of Cantonment.

Away from the buzz and traffic of the city we took school kids to Richards town, Cleveland Town and Frazer town and here is what we learnt from them.

Fraser Town

 

How do you have photographs of Mr.Frazer,” asks Ankita after she sees a couple of mobile pictures of him. I say, from the net and she is not impressed. She was in truth trying to find out who had photographed Frazer and were there cameras back then?

There were barrage of other interesting questions too.

Hazi Ismail Sait who did so much for the community, what business was he in? Why did he care so much about the education about girls? Krumbiegel  has contributed so much for the city. How is he remembered? Are there any roads,statues or establishment at least named after him?

These kids aged between 10-12 sure could think was what I thought, listening to their flurry of questions.

Why are British statues still here?,” a somber Anurag asks and adds quite politely, “We should remove them“. He is not impressed with Queen Victoria’s haughty statue inside Cubbon Park.

Cantonment Bungalow

 

Seeing the different Bungalows in the walk, the would-be investors wanted to know its present cost.  And they started with the initial price of 10 crores going on till 100!

“Are there any ghosts from British era?,” asked one smart alec. I had to invent some. Peter Colaco’s book came in handy as well. The headless beauty and faceless man stories flowed from my tongue.

It pays to walk with kids. They are always eager to learn more, especially if it is stories. And history is very easily conveyed through stories. The importance of heritage is also communicated.

“The fort that existed should not have been dismantled madam. I wish there were some laws to protect heritage in our city,” says Kiran seriously. I convey to him gently that Bengaluru has not yet got the heritage tag. For these innocent questions and more, I love going on walk with these smarty-pants.

Check out our school programs page if you are interested in sending your kids to an educational tour with us.

Disclaimer: The names of the kids have been changed to protect identity.

Usha

 

 

 

 

 

VV Puram -blissfully delightful

I bite in to the soft Congress Bun and I am in the seventh heaven. This is the first time I have had this, that too in one of the oldest bakeries of Bangalore-the VB Bakery.  And there is only one word for this bun filled with spicy peanuts and butter-exquisite!

Congress Bun

For more than a decade I have lived and worked in Bangalore but I never did visit VV Puram eat/thindi street. This week I had an opportunity to do so but unfortunately it was midday when I visited this place. So the popular shops that dishes out Avarekalu dosa and curd Kodubale(crispy snack) had to be skipped. But there were still a couple of shops open and I was content sampling that.

VV Puram thindi street

My first stop was of course at the VB Bakery. After gorging on the bun and the pleasant fruit cake I bumped in to one of the proprietors. A quick chat with him revealed that the bakery was gearing up to celebrate its 70th year in Bangalore. ” “We are busy making preparations for the event. Ours is the oldest bakery to be opened here at VV Puram,”recalled the owner proudly. They used to supply Garlic bread to Pizza outlets. Khara bun Congress was their avishkar! The sweet damrot prepared with pumpkin is not to be missed either.

Holige

A quick cross over from VB and I had a hot bite of freshly prepared Holige(sweet flat bread) at the outlet- Shree Vasavi Condiments. With dexterity the cook was filling yellow gram, Jaggery stuffing in to the holige ball, patting it skilfully and dropping it in to the flat top grill. 12 holiges in less than a minute, beats the 2 minute maggie ad any day:-)

With the Averekalu(Hyacinth Beans) season beginning, the Belle Nipatu(crispy snack) with generous dose of this beans is also a worthy bite. I wanted a pack of 10 but I didn’t get any. The reason ” Hot illa madam, swalpa kaya beku(The goodies are not hot madam, wait for sometime),” was the shop’s response. Ever been turned out because a shop did not have freshly made stuff for you?

After that I did not get the popular curd Kodubale or the Avarekalu dosas anywhere. The shops all serve these delicacies after six.  But I was not disheartened.

Gulkand at VV Puram:

Gulkand

I got my favorite Gulkand with a dollop of ice cream and fruits at the Shivanna Gulkand shop. U mm…. heaven  with dates, sweet gooseberry, banana, cherry with a generous dose of vanilla flavored ice cream. Sinfully wicked I say and you gotta try it. ” Madam we export our Gulkand and the masala mix to other countries,” said the owner proudly as he counted my change. The Pepsi and other drinks you get here has a twist. The masala mix is generously sprinkled on it making it a Pepsi Masala.

There is of course the Dosas, Thatte Idlis, corns,noodles and chats. A person visiting this little street can happily spend 2-3 hours gorging on the snacks. But if you wish for some long, short tales to go along with it then join Unhurried Food walks and you will not be disappointed.

–Usha