Real estate sharks gobbling up our best eateries

D.P. SATISH of CNN-IBN writes: Whenever I visit my home state, Karnataka, friends and relatives helpfully ask, “Why don’t you come back to Bangalore? You can happily eat idli, dosa, mosaranna and chitranna. Why do you suffer in hot and dusty Delhi, eating the same roti and sabzi day in and day out?”

Good, heart warming advice for a hardcore Kannadiga like me indeed. But is food the only attraction in Bangalore? Certainly not. But surely it is one of the best things about Bangalore.

At least it was.

The city has a hundred labels: Garden City, Knowledge City, IT City, and Pub City… But Food City describes Bangalore better than all other labels.

Sadly, though, the best eateries of Bangalore are dying.

Bangalore’s famed hotels (so called by Kannadigas even if they offer only food and no lodging!) are disappearing one after another.

These hotels are not just eating places. They are institutions. When two Bangaloreans settle down for snacks (favourite dosa, idli, vada or ambode) or coffee, they don’t just share what is served. They share a cultural outlook. These hotels gave birth to many literary and cultural movements in the state.

Who doesn’t know Vidhyarthi Bhawan in Gandhi Bazar, its crisp masala dosa and rava vada?

I still remember the day I entered Vidhyarthi Bhawan through its back door with the legendary journalist, the late Y.N. Krishnamurthy (popularly known as YNK), on a cold morning. In fact YNK was the last word on eateries and watering holes in Bangalore, and to him I owe my knowledge of hotels in Bangalore!

It was a great centre of intellectual debates, literary discussions, and a meeting place for the Who’s Who of Kannada literature and culture till recently. Giants like D.V. Gundappa to Masti, Girish Karnad to U.R. Ananthamurthy, Raj Kumar to Shankar Nag, cricket legends E.A.S. Prasanna, B.S. Chandrashekhar to G.R. Vishwanath were regular visitors to this small, low roofed, Mangalore-tiled hotel.

The hotel survives. But sadly its decline has already begun.

Brahmins Coffee Bar in Chamarajpet is the best place for idli and vada in Bangalore. This cramped eatery does roaring business even today. But it seems to have lost its old charm and its celebrity visitors.

Dwaraka Hotel on Bull Temple Road was once synonymous with the finest khali dosa. It has already made way for a multi-storey building.

The magnificent ‘Victoria Hotel’ opposite Mayo hall made way for an ugly, multi-storey mall, five years back. The great prime minister of England and a celebrated Bangalorean Winston Churchill was its regular visitor between 1890-1910. It was one of the most beautiful buildings in Bangalore.

If you live around Sajjan Rao circle and Minerva Circle, you are sure to be familiar with New Modern Hotel (NMH). Thoughts of its dosa and plate oota (or what the northerners call a thali meal) make me ravenous even as I write this in Delhi in the middle of a hot summer night.

NMH was once a meeting place for Kannada cinema stalwarts. The new stars turned their backs on this hotel decades ago. It is now struggling for survival.

Janatha Hotel, which is just a few feet from NMH, is also counting its last days.

VB Bakery at Sajjan Rao Circle is no longer a hot favourite of old Bangalore. Today’s yuppie crowd has no time or taste for old-fashioned bakery stuff! It was the cricketer Anil Kumble‘s favourite haunt during his National College days.

Fort Lunch Home opposite the Bangalore Fort has now become a part of history.

Where do you go, if you want to taste an authentic Mysore meal on MG Road? Brindavana Hotel next to Sympony cinema is the obvious choice. This hotel, too, is on the way out. I hear the owner is planning to build a huge shopping mall there. It makes business sense to pull it down to build a mall. But such demolitions most certainly sadden old and true Bangalorean hearts.

Another old hotel serving an Udupi menu in neighbouring Ulsoor downed its shutters a month ago. Komal Hotel at the junction of Wheelers Road and Assaye road may live at best for another two or three years.

Big names like MTR, Janardhana Hotel, Udupi Krishna Bhavan, Sri Sagar (Malleswaram), Krishna Bhavan, Airlines Hotel, nearly 200-year-old Dewars Bar (known as Bangalore’s first bar !), road side eateries at Sajjan Rao circle and idli, dosa night hotels on Ibrahim Sahib street, many old hotels on the three-century-old Avenue road and historic India Coffee House on M.G. road also look like they are past their glory days, and are waiting to shut down.

Who is responsible for the death of these eateries?

Has the Bangalorean stopped eating out?

The booming restaurant business in Bangalore tells a different story.

As the city grew, its demographic profile altered. New people, new jobs and an entirely new lifestyle brought new things into the city. Bangalore accepted them all. But tragically, it lost its old eating places to the real estate boom.

It is a sad story of real estate sharks eating Bangalore’s best eateries.

All these hotels are family run businesses. The younger generation is no longer interested in carrying forward the legacy of their fathers and forefathers. They have firmly set their eyes on real estate money or on bigger, better white collar jobs, which bring them social status and more money.

There’s nothing wrong with change. But some changes break your heart. Bangalore’s future looks like it will cleave the city into two. Two Bangalores living side by side, but strangers to one another.

We see it in the new cosmopolitan Bangalorean’s total ignorance of the old Bangalore world, of its language, of its writers, its traditions, its culture, and its eating habits. The growth of a city does not depend merely on its per capita income or its infrastructure. It has something called Soul.

As the noted novelist Shashi Deshpande says of change in Bangalore-Bean town to Boom town (edited by Jayanth Kodkani and R. Edwin Sudhir):

“It [change] generally happens over a period of time, giving room for assimilation, for absorption. In Bangalore it has been just too rapid, so that there are too many people who have no idea of its original culture and yet, because of their income and positions, have a great influence over the shape of the city and its future. And therefore the danger that it could be a city completely cut off from its past. An amnesiac city. “

When I return to Bangalore in future, I may have to be content with cappuccinno coffee and pizza, instead of traditional by-two coffee and dosa.

What a tragedy.

Cross-posted on kosambari

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