In this, the first of my `Guest Photographer Series’, I travel with photographer-writer, Aparna Nori to Whitefield just before World Anglo-Indian Day next Saturday.
The Inner and Outer Circles in Whitefield are `genteel’ territory. Sunlit lanes lead you to gates that protect delightful old cottages and bungalows. Flowers cascade over brick walls and fruit trees deliver their abundant promise in large gardens. Welcome to Whitefield, a unique settlement once comprising of two concentric circles – an Inner circle, Outer Circle, Borewell Road and the Village Green right in the middle. The quintessential English village.
It is a stark contrast to the periphery where irrational `pseudo-synthetic ‘ architecture, Coffee Bars, Factory Seconds outlets, glitzy Malls and Gated Communities ( so NOT Bangalore ) are squeezing it to death.
David Emmanuel Starkenburgh White, the founder and first President of the Anglo Indian Association of Madras envisioned Whitefield as an agricultural, self –sustained community so the Association petitioned for and was granted approximately 3900 acres towards this by the Maharajah of Mysore on 27th April, 1882. The Anglo-Indian community thereafter became charming neighbours and also bestowed upon Bangalore an irrepressible, cheery identity.They gifted me many happy childhood memories of Christmas.
The Anglo Indians (a term first used by Warren Hastings in the 18th century, but defined by Lord Hardinge in the 1911 census ) have often flitted across Hindi movie screens as secretaries in flower print dresses and high heels, cardigan clad spinsters,`fun loving’ uncles and taciturn engine drivers. Sadly, the community has often been subjected to various forms of prejudice and social stereotyping. But at the turn of the 19th century, most Anglo Indians had fairly public positions in the Government, Police, Customs, Merchant Navy and Railways. Some went on to do business and many were also distinguished army men. Sir Robert Warburton ( Khyber Rifles ), Colonel Henry Forster ( Shekhawati Brigade ) and Colonel James Skinner ( Skinner’s Horse) can all backtrack to Anglo-Indian ancestry. Not to forget our very own Kenneth Anderson, the South’s answer to Jim Corbett, Cliff Richards and Merle Oberon.
But on this windswept Sunday morning in Whitefield, God’s in His Heaven and all’s right with the world.
Aparna and I are sitting in Waverly, the Mangalore tiled, bungalow style home of Mr.Vivian D’Souza. Waverly is where the 4th Hussar’s officer, Winston Churchill is rumored to have stayed and also courted Rose Hamilton, the daughter of James Hamilton, the owner of Waverly Inn (Messrs. Hamilton, Strange & Co) as it was known back then. James Hamilton was an influential member of Whitefield society, Vice President of the E&AI Association and owner of – Avidre Cottage, Gartness Cottage, Coatbridge Cottage, Brumpellier House to name a few.
My mind builds a story where the twenty three year old Churchill, who found Bangalore a `third rate watering place ‘ might have galloped down every other weekend from Richmond Town to hang out at the Refreshment Room here or see Ms. Rose. Love ( or something like it ) has always spurred us to greater heights. In this case it would have been only the Kaolin and Hamilton Hills through which he would have hotfooted it to Whitefield. The ITPB route was non-existent.
Churchill would go on to woo and lose Pamela, the daughter of Sir Trevor Chichele -Plowden, the Governor of West Bengal but for now, this story has only Rose.
For a very long time, horses, the train and buses were the only link to the outer world. From the train station, the Inner Circle was only an 8 anna `jhutka’ ride away. “ If you missed the buses, E37 and E38, you had to wait another two hours. “ says Vivian who is from Mangalore and came to Waverly over fifty years ago when his father bought it from Mr.Khader Ali.
“ Everything used to come to our door. The local cobbler, the vegetable, fish and meat sellers, the Koli-Motte ( chicken eggs) lady. They knew our weekly menu and would turn up accordingly. Door delivery had a different meaning back then “.
The weekly shopping was at Russell Market. Petrol cost only 60 paise. “When it became Rs. 1, my father decided we would make a fortnightly trip to town.“ he says. “ When it hit Rs. 3/- he almost terminated the trips all together ! “
Bangalore was just a trunk call away. But every morning, the big factories nearby would book `lightening calls ‘, so Whitefield residents got to speak to friends only in the afternoon ! They say people make the place so I ask Vivian about them. He tells us about old Mrs.Chalke, Mrs Kinchella and Mrs Tapsoll teaching young people to stay off each other’s toes at the Whitefield Club Socials that were also attended by the KGF `crowd’. Further recollections follow – Mrs Giddens, dressed in black, knitting needle through her hair, striding down MG Road towards India Coffee House. She was the only one who could play the CSI Church organ.
Waverly is filled with the Tamarind, Chikoo, Custard apple and Guava trees that Vivian has planted. As the Tamarind trees shiver in the breeze, we walk through his spice garden scattered through the grounds – vanilla, exotic all spice, pungent curry leaves, a special Mangalorean coriander plant…
Do you ever think of moving to the city ? “ I ask.
“ God forbid” he replies emphatically as Aparna tries to take a picture of his two glossy black Labradors.
From Waverly, we drive past the Village Green ( where Sunday revelers play cricket and lie under the trees ) to the 180 seater Whitefield CSI Church which is just lovely. The friendly Ms. Sidney Smith and Mr. Cecil Dewars tell me that the Church was built with funds donated by the Christian community in Burma after World War I. The Maharajah of Mysore had stipulated that all Christian denominations should be allowed in here so the Church is Anglican but also has the Church of South India congregating here on Sundays. The Vicar ( of St.John’s ) would arrive by train and get to the Church in a bullock cart. The congregation, afraid that they would miss Mass due to limited transportation would arrive the previous evening. In 1936, the Church was authorised for electrification – three bulbs and a ceiling fan.
The walls here tell sad stories. Speaking of walls, I am horrified to learn that the Church lives under the shadow of the BBMP hammer. Their altar might be sacrificed for `road widening’. But Cecil has faith that the Lord is watching. I know He is too. I cannot imagine Him allowing anyone to split a Church in two for a road. Not even the BBMP.
We finally head to Herbs & Spices for lunch after this splendid Sunday drive. A man sits near me oblivious to all around, celebrating the opalescent grey skies, cold gusts of breeze and the spirit of Whitefield with a glass of wine, a book and his meal. Whitefield is a strange place.Filled with intense nostalgia and wistful ghosts from the past it struggles desperately against an unavoidable steel and float glass future. “ I miss the laid back Whitefield ” says Vivian “Walking down the road, your hand would ache because there were so many known people to greet. Now, I hardly hear English, Tamil or Kannada spoken around me anymore. Everyone I know has migrated. I feel like a stranger in my own town. ”
Aparna Nori says :” If my mind’s eye had a shutter release, my job would have been a lot easier. But I try to do the best I can as an amateur photographer with a simple camera. A good image makes even the tips of my fingers come alive. Some day I wish to show off my best images in a gallery. When I’m not shooting, I write for advertising. ”
” Having lived in Bangalore for 8 years, I always pegged Whitefield as a slice of an American suburb transplanted here for a bunch of software guys to feel at home. So it was a great surprise when I discovered that Whitefield has a history way longer than Silicon Valley. There’s something utterly charming about this quiet neighbourhood tucked away in the midst of the chaotic life outside, almost like an oasis. All the older residents have left, leaving behind only a small legacy of memories and stories. I felt a sense of melancholy seeing old homes making way for swankier apartment blocks, erasing a bit of the city’s history slowly but surely. “