Ladies special- The MN Krishna Rao Park

Just when we thought our mild winter was over, once again, there’s a lovely chill in the air. It’s a good enough reason for us Bengalureans to unpack our earmuffs and monkey caps and sun ourselves in our garden (if we have one). Those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to have natural frontage, head to the local park (if there is one). Here, we can sit on a favourite bench and enjoy this lovely in-between time of year just before Bengaluru bursts into summer bloom.

Residents of well-planned Basavanagudi in South Bengaluru have several green spaces to choose from, and what’s more, they come with stories attached. Morning walkers here have grown up with these heritage parks and are fiercely possessive about their memories of the area.One of my favourite stories is about what was said to be `the first women’s park’ in the country back in the 1940’s.

Park 1

One fine day (as the family story goes), the distinguished Acting Diwan of Mysore, Sir MN Krishna Rao, decided to cross this park and take a short cut to his daughter’s house on its southern side near Yediyur Circle. The diligent watchman stopped him. “Do you not see the board, sir?” he said indignantly. “The MN Krishna Rao Park is only for women and children.” The bemused Diwan quietly retreated and walked around the park to his daughter’s house. He left behind an irate watchman who never knew that the women’s park had been envisioned by the gentleman who was refused entry into it!

Park 4

The park covered an area of about 22 acres and continues to be shaded by some of the largest and most beautiful rain trees I have ever seen. This considerate gesture was planned back then for women and children who had little opportunities for recreation and exposure to the world in those traditional days. It afforded them privacy and safety within which they could enjoy the beauty of nature and the park amenities. Its landscaped premises also had a radio receiver, play equipment for children; a slide, merry-go-round, see- saw and swings. Women and children’s issues as well education were themes close to the Diwan’s heart and the park reflected his ideals.

The Acting Diwan contributed Rs. 20,000 of his personal funds towards the park and also laid the foundation stone for the two storeyed Krishna Rao Pavilion (1940) at its centre. A memorial plaque at the park confirms this event. An additional amount of Rs.15,000 was added to build it. The octagonal domed structure was designed by the Berlin born Otto H. Koenigsberger, Chief Architect and Planner to Mysore State (1939-1948). It intended to be a community space for social interactions and education; music and art, civic issues like health and hygiene and film screenings on these topics.  The now forgotten Koenigsberger’s contributions to the cityscape included the KR Polytechnic at KR Road, Kalasipalayam bus stand, buildings at the Indian Institute of Science and Victory Hall (now Bal Bhavan).  The pavilion was part of a portfolio that represented a vision for modern Mysore.

Park 3

It is easy to forget that the dilapidated structure is a part of Bengaluru’s architectural heritage. But local stories recall how it went from being a community space to office, gymnasium and even sheltered the Indian army, which briefly occupied the first floor in 1947. The Acting Diwan’s family hopes for it to be turned into a commemorative museum dedicated to this visionary statesman. Perhaps a museum here honoring all the visionary Diwans of Mysore would be a wonderful idea!

The forlorn bandstand near the pavilion is where music was once played while Basavanagudi ladies enjoyed the parks flowers and large canopied trees that filtered in winter sunshine. Like the pavilion, its historical significance has been relegated to the past. The park too, is a mere shadow of the city’s vibrant horticultural traditions. It remains a silent spectator in what was a forward thinking idea over seventy five years ago and even today; a gender exclusive, public space for women.

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Find it at: Dewan Madhava Rao Road, Basavanagudi, Bengaluru.Check park timings before you go.

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This story was previously published in the Bangalore Mirror on January 19th, 2015.

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