Monday, June 27, 2011

Old bungalows of Bangalore

Old bungalows of Bangalore

We were pretty excited when my husband finally managed to collect enough money to buy a brand new Nikon D60 SLR. After photographing random things and people, we decided to photograph the old houses of Bangalore. We found a few old houses in Gandhi bazaar, where we lived and in Malleshwaram where I had lived as a child. We roamed around in different areas of Bangalore such as the Shivajinagar area and Chamrajpet areas too for photos.

The beautiful bungalows built by the British and also in the Indian style are fast disappearing and I deeply regret that the new generations to Bangalore will never get to see them! I too have not seen many of these buildings as they started disappearing before I started truly exploring Bangalore after 2000.

The reasons these bungalows disappeared/ disappearing seem to be mainly that the owners need money, their heirs want to sell and divide the money or break down the house and rebuild so that all the heirs inherit a flat each. Often the bungalows are sold to richer Indians from the North such  as businessmen, the NRIs, the software guys, and people who demolish the bungalows and build either office buildings or flats. Of course, none of the buyers keep the bungalows; every buyer demolishes the building he bought and rebuilds.

I have heard a lot of bitter talk from the Kannada speaking natives of Bangalore who rue that the best parts of Bangalore are being bought by the non-natives such as the Guajaratis. Basavanagudi and Malleshwaram are two areas of Bangalore which had only kannada speaking residents and now these places have been completely taken over by non-natives of Bangalore. Apparently Kannadigas cannot afford to reside in Bangalore’s best areas today or are choosing not to!

I had seen old bungalows in Bangalore with beautiful gardens in the front and with a variety of fruit trees: the ubiquitous coconut tree is there in every house; some houses had guava trees, mango, papaya, some had pomegranate, Nelli kai, and jackfruit; some had flowering trees such as the  Sampige tree.  Many bungalows also had croton plants at the front and also roses, marigold, the different varieties of jasmine(mallige)  and kanakambra, the humble tumbe huvu, the pleasant smelling Marga plants, the ubiquitous Tulsi and so on.

Unfortunately the current trend in Bangalore is to build the house on every square inch of land and there are hardly any trees in the compounds of the new houses. While a coconut sapling was planted in every house (for religious and culinary  reasons) in the past, today the lots are so small that the once ubiquitous tree is not planted at all.
There are no trees even on the roads these days. The trees planted by the government in the past such as the Gulmohur have been ruthlessly cut down now for the metro and there is absolutely no shade while walking on the streets of Bangalore.
The new areas on the outskirts of Bangalore, of course were farm land belonging to private individuals who converted their agricultural  their land to sites and sold these sites. Their greed has lead to their making maximum number of sites to sell and  roads with the minimum permitted width  and even narrower pavements, with no room for planting shady trees. Most of these layouts do not even provide electricity, water or tarred roads for several years after ‘development’.

Coming back to the old bungalows of Bangalore, they had high ceilings, were often a pale yellow colour (called Gopi colour), with some decorations on the outer front wall. They had red-oxide floors which are cement floors with a red colour. The first room would usually be a veranda where guest left their slippers before entering the hall i.e. the living room. Often the veranda had large windows and wicker/cane chairs for the people to sit and enjoy the garden while having a cup of filter coffee. The veranda opens into a drawing room where the family sat with guests and after the television came to Bangalore, the television was kept in this room and the entire family gathered round it to watch. There were bed-rooms off this drawing room and as you went deeper into the house you come into the kitchen, Pooja room, dining room if it had one, the bathroom and toilet. The backyard had the granite washing stone, where the clothes were beaten in the process of washing, a tap and squared off area where the servant or the women washed vessels and clothes, a clothesline for drying clothes,

But this plan of building is not of really old houses.  The really old bungalows had an open to sky space in the centre of house with rooms and a corridor to walk. The centre which was open to the sky was where women of the house dried pickles, chillies, cleaned the rice and dhals , combed their hair, chatted, etc. The house would have a large room also called the uyyale room i.e. room with the swing. These swings were fairly large, with a wooden plank serving as a seat suspended on iron chains. Adults would sit on this swing after meals and eat the beetle leaf and nuts or fruit. Or simply chat. Or even stretch out on the swing and nap.  I loved these old bungalows and recall the time when there would be sparrows swooping on the rice spread out in the centre, rain splashing on to the corridors, playing hide and seek in the several rooms. The houses were much bigger than the current day houses. However they were sparsely furnished as most people sat of mats spread out on the floor, in those days. One of these bungalows I know was in Chamrajpet and has collapsed due to it’s age, lack of maintenance and also I think as it was not built with cement. There was something so simple and attractive about it’s white-washed thick walls, with the sand dribbling out of the holes in the wall(where nails had been driven), red tiled roof, the large thick crudely hewn doors, the worn-out wooden doorsteps in each room, red-oxide floor,(in the hall)cement floor(some rooms)and the lovely cool Kadapa stone floor,  in the centre open to sky part of the house. My friends who lived here were financially constrained and did not have the usual rows of gleaming copper vessels lined in the attic of their kitchen. The only evidence of some modernity and wealth was the blue light from the black and white tv in their house! This house had fruit trees and coconut trees in the compound but these too are dead today. This house was in a site measuring 150 by 150 feet! Today’s sites measure as small as 20 by 30 feet! Many old bungalows also had wells, whose walls were lined with granite stones and they had a pulley and rope to draw water from them. My house had a well from which my dad would draw water daily after he returned from work in the evening and watered the plants. Now we have a motor pump which pumps the water.

Today I am debating whether to invest in a house in Bangalore (in case I return in my old age to settle) or not. I am torn with so much conflict about this decision that I do not know what to do!
Here’s my conflict: I have been vehemently critical of NRIs who buy sites in Bangalore and squat on them for decades doing nothing. The NRIs investing in Real Estate in Bangalore  drive up the prices and the hard working Bangalorean with his Indian rupees simply cannot compete with the NRI’s dollars ! It is so damn unfair to the Bangaloreans especially the salaried class and the hard-working but poorly paid persons! However, software engineers, business men, the rich and corrupt people have no problems affording real estate in Bangalore. If a site costs 10 lakh rupees it is 10 years salary for many Bangaloreans while it is about six thousand dollars for a NRI from USA and 6000$ is peanuts for him or her!
 My close friends, a school teacher and an artist, are slogging in Bangalore and are  unable to buy a house in Bangalore nor can they  cope with the rising rents. They simply cannot move to houses with lower rents as these houses are in unsafe areas. Meanwhile, I have at least a dozen relatives sitting in USA who own multiple houses and sites in Bangalore as an investment of their spare dollars. Some of these houses are even lying empty! There are also several Bangaloreans who own multiple properties while there are millions who own nothing. I am not saying that everyone should own real estate but there should at least be decent houses in decent areas affordable to all. The rise in  rents is driving several people to desperation.

Which is why I feel so guilty about buying a house in Bangalore now, when I am still living in Canada. To reduce my guilt  I could postpone buying i.e. buy a house in Bangalore when I move back;  but in that case I will be paying a lot more than I will pay if I buy today; also I will end up buying a house farther from the centre of the city than if I buy it today.
If I do invest in a house in Bangalore today, I would be depriving a hard working Bangalorean who is living in Bangalore but cannot compete with me.
But would the rates of houses come down if one NRI refuses to buy? If all NRIs refuse to buy, then maybe it will cause a huge dent in the number of buyers and then maybe the cost of real estate will come down.
Now should I be practical and safeguard my interests or be idealistic and not buy???

I am also frustrated and guilty about the environmental damage happening in India by the urban sprawl. The cities take the agricultural lands of the surrounding villages for buildings. In turn the villages take the forest lands for agriculture and in turn, the animals in the  forests are displaced and end up invading people’s places. Just recently the wild elephants came into Mysore city and killed people! Leopards attacks are increasing. Bear attacks in my village are mentioned. I remember wild elephants coming to Konanakunte in Bangalore in 1996-97.  This would not be happening if we did not encroach on the spaces both wild and agricultural.

When I discussed this with a cousin of mine who is planning to buy a house in Bangalore, she said that her buying one house will not cause the environmental and wild-life damage I was ranting about. But just adding up the Real Estate of the rich in India and the NRIs from all over the world in India, the sum of land is mind-boggling! Just adding up the sites and houses my extended family is sitting on currently in Bangalore, embarrasses me no end!

When I discussed with my mother about buying a flat in Bangalore ( I feel less guilty about environment damage, if I owned a flat than a house!) she was vehemently against it. She spoke of flats in Yelahanka which had neither water nor electricity( for lifts) and told that they were lying empty or unsold!
…….and I know for sure that I do not want to lug buckets of water up 12 floors by stairs  in my old age! My mother may be exaggerating but this is a very real fear.

The Karnataka government is notoriously corrupt and I am sure that the builders will get away with  constructing apartments  without amenities and the government will do nothing (as they have received bribes) to check them.

I hope I come to some satisfactory decision soon! I keep reading in Epoch times about the huge environmental damage in China due to the rapid industrialization and growth. The floods, famines, droughts, etc are all due to the environmental damage by humans expanding their impact on nature and earth. How can I own a piece of turf in Bangalore, without contributing to this assault on nature?
October 2012: To hell with my guilt and to hell with the environment. I gotta think of myself and my life during old age when I am no longer earning! I  am  going to buy a plot in Bangalore!
 It is not as if a farmer is cutting down trees because I am going to buy the plot. The farmer has already converted his agricultural land into plots and he is selling them and I am buying one plot....which someone else would have bought anyway if I dint. The real estate values are going up much faster in Bangalore in Toronto and I would get more returns by investing in Bangalore than in Toronto. If I had made up my mind and bought a site much earlier in Bangalore... without letting my conscience interfere, I would have saved a lot of money!

Damn my conscience for causing such a loss of money to me!



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