The best time to take a walk down the old Madras Bank Road is on a Sunday afternoon at 3.30 pm. The roads are mercifully free of traffic today and the sun sprinkles everything with gold while an adolescent breeze plays tag with fallen leaves. I pass by the India Garage building at the corner that now hosts swank showrooms for shiny new cars. It is a legacy from the 1920’s when the long line of stores in this shopping arcade were once called the `Cash Bazaar ‘ owned by Khilafatwale Hajee Osman Sait and sold all sorts of exotic commodities ranging from typewriters to a hackney carriage from The Cash Bazaar Carriage Works on Madras Bank Road. Addison & Co. next door, sold bicycles, cars (Peugeots and Buicks among them) and motorcycles. But way before this, the area comprised of stables for Sir Mark Cubbon’s horses when he lived next door, making it easy for Mr.KN Guruswamy, SM Sivaji Rao and A Gopal Naidu to set up the Bangalore Riders Club in 1934 – the first riding club in Bangalore on the Mysore Lancers grounds, (all three gentlemen were passionately fond of horses) with the stables for the horses being around here as well. The club later shifted to Agram and then the Bangalore Turf Club. So somehow, this area has always ended up being associated with mobility – horses, carriages, cars.
Horses were a big thing at the time, so traders did lucrative business in Bangalore, fulfilling the demands of the Maharajahs of Mysore, the British Cantonment and even Bangalore’s high society. (More about that in my next post). In the early 1950’s uniformed police and defence personnel as well as civilians in riding clothes bobbed their way elegantly through Cubbon Park and down MG Road. One could even ride all the way to Chamrajpet and back pretty quickly because needless to say, there weren’t any traffic signals or jams around here ! To outfit these riders was A.P. Butler & Co. near the India Garage, who sold army surplus and fancy riding boots.
As sunlight slid down the Mangalore tiled roof of the beautiful but neglected Post Office further down the road, I walked past the new Post Office next to it which is not a patch on the old one. In 1831, this entire area, upto Sacred Hearts School was meant to house the Resident, and when the first Commissioner of Bangalore, Sir Mark Cubbon shifted out of here to his new bungalow around 1840 ( the Raj Bhavan today), the Resident stayed here till the post was abolished in 1843. In 1881, when power shifted back to the Mysore royal family and the post of Commissioner was abolished, the post of Resident was resurrected and Raj Bhavan became the new Residency with this becoming the ` Old Residency’. But till then, I am sure this road must have witnessed many a glittering party in its heyday with the carriages that drew up being requisitioned from right next door !
In 1835, a portion of the Residency area was converted into a jail. The Jail Superintendent lived on the premises till the jail moved to Gandhi Nagar in 1865. In 1855, the Good Shepherd Sisters of Society bought another portion of it to build a school and the rest was given to the Madras Bank. Therefore the road next to it, the one I am standing on, came to be called the Madras Bank Road. The Madras Bank later went on to become the Imperial Bank and then the State Bank of India. When the Jail Superintendent (who lived in the little building that was not the post office back then) moved on to new lodgings, this building was transformed into the Government Museum, housing all our state artefacts till the new one was built on Kasturba Road. The adjacent road came to be called Museum Road. Around 1854, the building became a Post Office and judging by the amount of transformations the property has gone through, I am sure it must be extremely relieved to have stayed one ever since.
Opposite me, at the corner of Madras Bank Road and Residency Road ( the road going to the Residency) is St. Joseph’s European High School & College which was built for European and Anglo-Indian boys initially. It was built in the form of the letter H by Fr. JM Vissac on the grounds of a large property called `Rocklands ‘ to accomodate a growing number of students from the original school on St. John’s Hill. It was administered to by the Society of French Foreign Missionaries and in the centre of the school was a magnificent stone chapel on the first floor which was knocked down recently and re-built rather unaesthetically, much to our dismay. When the school opened in 1898, it had 100 boarders and 89 day scholars but went on thereafter to produce many illustrious sons of Karnataka including Rahul Dravid and Sabeer Bhatia. The Madras Bank Road ( now State Bank Road ) is now a one way, so if you swing nonchalantly into it from Residency Road, ignoring the `no free left’ sign, be careful because our crafty Bangalore Traffic Police are hiding right around the corner to catch you.
But right now, as the afternoon sun shines down on me through grey skies and a cool wind rustling through the many Banyan trees in the area signals the onset of rain, I realise that there is no other place in the Cantonment where you can get such a vivid picture of what Bangalore must have been like once – gracious and elegant. This part of town is right in the heart of the city and makes for a nice short Sunday walk, so take a right at the College, head up Residency Road to Bishop Cottons Boys School, then right onto St.Marks Road and past the Bowring Institute up to Koshy’s for a nice hot cup of afternoon tea and a crisp cutlet. Sit there with a good book, count raindrops trickling down the window and discover how easy it is to make time stand still. Sunday is too precious to be spent in front of the TV.