Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On John Cameron, a Prince and a scandal

Lalbagh has a special place in my heart, just as I suspect it does in the hearts of most Bangaloreans. I'm always amazed at just how many people have shaped this park. Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, of course, established the formal gardens. But so many people have since done their mite and left their stamp on this verdant space: Black, New, John Cameron, Gustav Krumbiegel, HC Javaraya, MH Marigowda to name to the well-known ones. But even though we know that all these men worked passionately and ceaselessly on our beloved park, we knew precious little about the men themselves, especially the earlier ones.

Take John Cameron, for instance (you can read more about him in my article that was published yesterday). He was one of those men who seems to have been able to squeeze 28 hours of work into 24. There is a popular story told of his efforts to popularise chow chow (aka seeme badanekai, Bangalore kattrikai, chayote, Sechium edule) in and around Bangalore. I could just imagine him riding about the countryside on his horse, urging farmers to try out the new crop. But I wonder what made him come to India... What did he do when he went back to England? Where did he stay when in Bangalore? And what about his family? His children and his wife?

John Cameron is the one who had the idea of a conservatory in Lalbagh. Its foundation stone was laid in 1889 by Prince Albert Victor (yes, that's why we have an Albert Victor Road in Bangalore), a grandson of Queen Vikki, and heir to the Prince of Wales, who himself was heir to the throne. This is why the conservatory was for a while known as the Albert Victor Hall or Albert Victor Conservatory. We, of course, know it as the Glass House.

Incidentally, Prince Albert Victor was embroiled in a a salacious scandal back home just before he came to India. There were rumours (now known to be all false) that he had been involved in 'acts of gross indecency' and 'buggery'. The whole India trip must have been such a welcome breather for the poor chap. He managed to live down the scandal but he never made it to the throne. He died of the flu just three years after his visit to India.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Where the streets have names

iJanaagraha, the recently launched online portal of the NGO Janaagraha, last month asked for a short piece on street names. A bit of a coincidence, because a colleague and I had been wondering about some street names just a few days before that.

The article was quite fun to write, though a wee bit stressful, because of a short deadline (a perennial problem!). I would have liked to research some things a bit more so I'm not overly happy with the end result. But here it is on iJanaagraha.

Some of the street (and locality/park) names that didn't make it to the article: Coles Park and Cubbon Road and Park (after former British Residents, of course); Dobbspet - variously known as Daabspet, Dabbaspet etc. (after Major General RS Dobbs); Sajjan Rao Circle; Campbell Road (after a missionary); Hardinge Road (after a viceroy); and many, many more.

But there are hundreds more stories that I don't yet know, waiting to be found behind hundreds more streets...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Heat, dust and Gulbarga

I'm always amazed at how, no matter in which direction you go, our country has all these little historic gems just waiting to be discovered. Take Gulbarga for instance. The name always brought to mind heat, aridity, dust and little else. Luckily, we live and we learn, for I now know that Gulbarga is actually home to an astonishing number of historic treasures. And the best part is that many of the buildings in the town are truly one of a kind.

Take the Jami Masjid, for instance, a building that historians and architects have waxed eloquent over for decades. It has a unique plan, a kind that you don't see anywhere else in the country. Or the Bala Hissar. Again, the building is the only one of its kind in India.

And yet, when my colleague and I asked our taxi driver to take us to the Gulbarga fort, his response was: "Why do you want to go there? It's a big, dirty, old ruin with nothing in it. Why don't you go see the new Buddha Vihar instead?" Well, we did actually make it to the fort, despite our taxi driver's best efforts. You can read a little more about the fort and a few of the other heritage buildings in Gulbarga in my article in today's Deccan Herald.

I was in Gulbarga for only a short while, certainly not enough to explore all, or even most of it. I hope to go back soon to see and experience more of the town. But I'm glad we did make it to the dargah of the sufi saint Khwaja Bande Nawaz. We went there just before closing time. All the courtyards, the mosque and even the paths between them were all full of people (of all faiths). And yet, the atmosphere was one of sanctity and serenity.

Oh and just for the record, at least when I went, Gulbarga was neither hot nor dusty!