>Standing in Russell Square


A fusion of styles

Standing in Russell Square is not easy. You have to fight for every square inch of space you occupy. In addition, the horns are deafening, the cross yelling between traders endless, and the `look where you’re going or you’ll step into rotten vegetable goo ” caution you have to constantly exercise is exhausting.  Much has already been written about the market’s interior- exterior so instead of the usual diatribe about flower and meat stalls, I will instead have you know that a day came about when the `native bazaar’ near Bowring Institute could no longer meet the demands of the growing Civil and Military station. The Municipal Commission therefore decided to build a new Market at Blackpalli ( Shivajinagar).

Russell vs Rasool ?

 It was named after the then Municipal Commissioner, T.B Russell, I.C.S and formally inaugurated in 1927, by Hajee Sir Ismail Sait, a well known, eminent Cutchi Memon businessman and philanthrophist in Bangalore. He built, amongst others,  the Out Patient Dispensary attached to the Government K.R. Hospital, Mysore ( which was also built in 1927 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the then Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar ), the Cutchi Memon Masjid in Mysore, the Hajee Sir Ismail Sait Ghosha Hospital and the Hajee Sir Ismail Sait Mosque in Frazer Town, Bangalore. I also found a quaint case settlement mentioning him in 1918 which made for enjoyable reading as it brought to life the outraged gentlemen who had been wrongfully deprived of their precious cargo… ” owing to the disorganization of shipping consequent on the outbreak of the war at the beginning of August 1914…

Enough space for everyone

Like the numerous hypothetical reasons why Bangalore is called Bangalore, Blackpalli too has its own popular hypothesis which states that it was once inhabited by farmers who migrated here from Gingee and grew white rice ( billi akki ) in the area. Therefore `Billi-akki-palli.’ Get it ?  Since none of these theories have been backed by historical facts yet, a theory remains a theory. The new Market was designed by W.H Murphy who probably gave the central entrance its buttressed piers with octagonal chattri’s on top in the delicate Indo-Saracenic style.

The market is everywhere

The inauguration was evidently noteworthy. ” Records stated that the opening ceremony was conducted ` on a grand scale and an amount of Rs.269 and eight annas was spent for the purpose”. A Market Sergeant, appointed by  the cantonment administration used to oversee proper maintenance of the market”. ( Gita Surendran, Deccan Herald, 24th January, 1982). Many traders I spoke to insisted on calling it `Rasool Market’ and vehemently agreed that this was its true name, albeit modified by the hapless British ! Russell Market is still the place to go for fresh meats, exotic fruits and vegetables, a fact acknowledged by many city restaurants and chefs. The market rises early, often at dawn, so the earlier you go the less likely are you to be accompanied home by limp spinach or an exhausted florette of broccoli.

Any time is tea time

At Richards Square, the claim to fame is Adams. They say it was established in 1912. I am instantly curious to know if the new market was built on empty land or if smaller shops were sacrificed for it. If so, then development evidently charts a sad but predictable course. Richards Square is the place to buy all those utilitarian buckets, mops pressure cookers and glasses you might need when setting up home. Jan & Co, provides you with everything you need to hire for the big do – large vessels, chairs, tarpaulins and the satin fringes for the catering tables. Richards Square also has several stores selling vintage bric-a-brac and I once bought a complete Swedish enamel cooking set here. If you enjoy browsing, these stores could conjure up a surprise find or two ! It’s in an extremely decrepit, run down condition and the day is not too far away, I suspect,  when it will face the boom to make way for yet another glitzy shopping arcade. The Square is also full of tea houses selling delectable mutton samosas, buns and sweet milky chai.

The Gujjri at Chandini Chowk Road

On the far side of the square, closer to the Beef Market is a turn that takes you into Chandi Chowk Road. It is lined on one side with military stores selling vintage defence parapheneliacoats, boots, belts, caps and jackets, and on the other, is the scrap metal `gujjri’. On a lighter note,I have often heard it said that if you ever lose your vehicle in Bangalore, this would be a good place to buy it back,  part by part !
Chandini Chowk Road

Heading back to Russell Square from Chandini Chowk Street, I realise how fascinated I am with this part of town. Diverse communities and religions both co-exist here in close proximity, a fact that has not gone unnoticed or unexploited by local political parties. People who have lived peacefully side by side for decades are suddenly capable of turning on each other when the detonater is pressed. An innate believer in the good that exists inside all people, I find it unbelievable that this area where mosques sit next to temples can be fragmented so easily and the common man so easily manipulated out of his tea shop or printing press to play the reversible roles of victim and aggressor. Each evening, it is still the same sun that sets on either Lubbay Masjid or Dharamaraja Koil street. Over one India.

St Mary’s Basilica by Abbe Dubois

Across Russell Square is the beautiful St.Mary’s Basilica whose spire cuts into the sky at sunset. The original structure was a small chapel, built by the well known Abbe Dubois, a Catholic priest who moved from `Seringapatam’ to Bangalore after the fall of Tipu in 1799. It was re-built in 1875 -82 to stand as it is today.

Abbe Dubois strikes a chord when he writes about Bangalore saying ” A woman can frequent the most crowded places without being exposed to the least insult. A male who would stop to gaze on a female who is passing by, as our loungers in Europe are accustomed to do, would be considered by all an insolent and uneducated person”. ( Abbe Dubois, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies / The City Beautiful, TP Issar )

His words are all the more poignant when I look out at the motley crowd that fills Russell Square and Bangalore city today.

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