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.

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