Basavanagudi in South Bengaluru is not somewhere one would go without a reason, not unless you’re on a mission to memorise the city map. But the area has so much history hidden in its nook and corner that a few hours spent on its streets can give you a glimpse of what Bengaluru used to be ‘back in the day’.
We took a walk with Mansoor Ali, co-founder of Bengaluru by Foot, as he took us around Basavanagudi, giving us glimpses of a place that continues to latch on to its connection with the past.
This is where we saw the ‘spot’ where Bombay Ramaswamy’s house once stood. For the uninitiated, Ramaswamy was the principle designer of The Gateway of India. The house, which stood on three acres of land, was demolished 30 years ago. Now an apartment building stands there.
Sir MN Krishna Rao was the acting Diwan of Mysore State (1941), a position equivalent to the Prime Minister back in the day. The house is, however, significant mostly because of his contribution to this area, and especially for building the park in front of the house that was later named after him.
The one-acre house on old Kanakapura Main Road was built in 1907. Three sides of the house face the road, while the fourth is a conservancy lane (a space where waste was wrapped in banana leaves and dumped, and later carried to a field on bullock carts to be used as manure).
The house is currently divided between two out of his three grandchildren, where they continue to live, and is managed by one of them, MR Narendra (74).
As you enter the house you will spot a portrait of MN Krishna Rao – dressed in a sherwani and the traditional pagdi. The old-style swing in the living room and wooden furniture gives the house a beautiful vintage look.
The house is still in its original form, with little or no modifications made. The circular pillared ornate front entrance with large bedrooms on either side, red hexagonal tiles imported from Austria for the flooring, an open courtyard, a rosewood staircase to reach the first floor etc – they are all there. There was a time when 35 family members would share this home, and they would all fit into their dining room.
Ali tells us, “The constructions of yesteryears were so strong that these kind of houses endure time, and can fight most natural disasters.”
For women only
Covering an area of 25 acres, MN Krishna Rao built the first women’s park in the country in 1940 by contributing Rs.20,000 from his personal funds. Home to more than a 100 variety of plants, the park was built at a time when women did not have the luxury of too many recreational outlets. Meant only for women and children, the park used to be a vibrant space.
Later another Rs.15,000 was spent to build the Krishna Rao pavilion, which was designed by the chief architect and planner of Mysore state, the Berlin-born Otto H Koenigsberger, inside the park. Incidentally, there are still three trees in the park that date back to the 40s. Despite losing a lot of its original lustre, the park today continues to attract visitors, even if not in hordes, and is still in pretty decent condition.
No one’s home
The next stop was at the house of Sringaravelu Mudaliyar, who used to be a High Court Judge. Designed by Bombay Ramaswamy, the house today, which lies abandoned, is on the verge of dilapidation. His present family who owns the house is currently in the US, and had chosen to leave the house locked for fear that their tenants might never vacate the place.
The bungalow, which covers around 5,000 sqft, has two living rooms and as many bedrooms. The kitchen and bathroom are separate from the main house. You can still see the old grinding stone, and even the abandoned kitchen utensils.
The perfect models
The model houses of Basavanagudi are quite an interesting sight. The government in the old days used to mark them as housing examples. Model Street 1 and Model Street 2 in Basavanagudi are still home to a few of them. These 1,000 sqft houses were built to show government officials the basic structure of how bungalows in the area were going to be designed. Whenever they wanted to own a property, they were shown these houses, which were of course scaled down, but the architecture and design principles would remain the same.
Saved by conversion
The last house on the plan was that of Nittoor Srinivasa Rao of Karnataka (he was the son-in-law of MN Krishna Rao and a former Chief Justice). The house is now a restaurant called Thindi Katte Presto. It is said that freedom fighters would organise meetings for their plans against the British, in this house. The house was raided plenty of times by the British looking for the freedom fighters who would hide in the ventilator spaces of the bungalow. Almost 104 years old, this house continues to attract visitors, and not just for the food at the restaurant.
Credits Bangalore Mirror