Saturday, 26 November 2011

Boulevard of broken dreams..

Sudarshan N

April 5, 2009, was just another day for me. But Mahatma Gandhi Road, now popularly called MG Road and South Parade in pre-independence times, was set to lose one of its last remnants of history.

The Indian Coffee House, which stood as a mute spectator since 1959 to many significant changes in MG Road’s landscape, was catering to its customers for one last time in an ambience as serene as ever. For old-timers like my father it was a sad end to a glorious chapter.

Bangalore has always been a city that attracted migrants, its weather the single biggest factor. First, it was the turn of Tamilians who settled in Halasuru, an area off MG Road. Then came the British. The cosmopolitan aura reflects in the areas in and around MG Road. These were part of the cantonment area of Bangalore (other being the ‘city’), which stretched to twelve and a half square miles, established by the British Military Garrison.

Lord Cornwallis is said to have led his army through present day MG Road in the 1780s when he attacked Tipu Sultan’s fort in Kalasipalyam. The British managed to defeat Tipu in 1799. But they were driven out of Srirangapatnam by mosquitoes and they took refuge in Bangalore’s Cantonment. Trinity Church, located at the start of MG Road, was constructed for the garrisoned soldiers.

In complete contrast to the other side of Bangalore (Malleshwaram, Chamarajpet and Basavanagudi), which was conservative to the core and swore by idli vada and by-two coffee, the landscape in the cantonment area was dotted by bars, pubs, discotheques and movie theatres that screened ‘English movies’ and restaurants that served fancy food.

For someone like me, who has lived his entire life in Bangalore, one for whom ‘home’ is speaking in Kannada and munching authentic South-Indian food, MG Road was completely out of bounds. It was an alien territory, as much as London or Paris.

Girls draped in western wear, smoking cigars and having a drink or two were commonplace. New Year’s Eve and Christmas parties at the ‘Hard Rock Café’ found audience among the ‘Generation Next.’ It was, by far, the most ‘happening’ place for new-age Bangaloreans.

Despite this, it is MG Road which settlers, old and new, orthodox and liberal have always associated and identified Bangalore with. Its beautiful green canopy, boulevard with arched bougainvillea that ran the length of the road, theatres like Plaza and Galaxy and the Indian Coffee House were the main attractions.

Bangalore is the only city where exotic varieties of flowers and trees bloom for almost nine months a year. Shades of this are still evident in Cubbon Park, which lies at one end of MG Road with flora and fauna sprawling over 100 acres.

A walk along the boulevard, filter coffee at Indian Coffee House, smelling sandalwood sculptures at Cauvery Emporium and a late night movie at plaza; the MG Road of today offers none of these.

With the exception of one or two, most of the older buildings have been razed. In their place stand multi-storey buildings, corporate offices and malls with glitzy glass exteriors. The Barton Center and the Utility building, perhaps the last showcases of colonial times, no longer have those small little restaurants on the terrace.

Gone are the morning walkers, evening joggers and shopkeepers on the pavements. A giant flyover-like structure right at the centre of the road on which Bangalore’s ‘Namma Metro’ runs has reduced the erstwhile boulevard to rubble.

However, the Indian Coffee House was reinstated last year, albeit at a different location. On Church Street, parallel to MG Road. The aroma of the filter coffee, the taste of the masala dosa and the red-turbaned waiters, are all still the same. But the spirit just doesn’t seem to be there any more; it gives way to a wave of nostalgia that sweeps over people.

In May this year, a high-value commercial space, close to Barton Centre and a few hundred yards away from the earlier location of the Indian Coffee House, was leased to Café Coffee Day. “A lot can happen over a cup of coffee.” A lot can happen, indeed.

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