E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Bangalore in the 1950s and ’60s was still a Pensioners’ Paradise and very much a sleepy town. It was mostly divided into “City” and “Cantonment” with Basavanagudi and Malleshwaram the best known among its residential areas.
Jayanagar and its famous mosquitoes had not made their debut yet.
The City Market was really a conglomeration of various petes—Chikkapete, Balepete, Tharugupete, Akkipete, Cottonpete—holding the business community. Dandu, or Cantonment (‘Contrumentru’ as the villagers would call it) was still a very far off place for most Bangaloreans.
Almost as far as London itself.
One got a fair idea of the City when one used BTS, or Bangalore Transport Service to give its full name (“Bittre Tiruga Sigodilla“, was the other full form).
50 years ago, the only other modes of transport for a common man were the Jataka Gaadi (horse driven covered cart) or nataraja service— local lingo for footing it out.
The word ‘autorickshaw’ had yet to enter the lexicon, the contraption was yet to invade our roads.
Those who worked in Atthara Katcheri (18 offices) before Vidhana Soudha was conceived, or those who worked in AG’s office walked to their offices. After an early meal around 9 am, chewing Mysore villedele with sughnadhi betel nuts, most of them changed in to their kuchche panche with their marriage coat, some wearing the Mysore peta as crown, they set off to their office holding a tiffin box which contained their afternoon snack: a couple of idlis, uppittu, etc.
The same tiffin bag was used to bring back Mysore mallige in the evening along with badami halwa for the waiting wife. The only addition to the office gear was a half-sleeve sweater during winter, and a full-length umbrella which sometimes doubled as a walking stick, during the monsoon.
Bangalore looked almost empty during the day as most of the eligible science and engineering graduates or diploma holders were herded into buses at the unearthly hour of 6.30 in the morning and ferried to HAL, HMT, BEL, LRDE, ITI, NGEF, Kirloskar, BEML, etc.
The city suddenly perked up after the factory hands returned to their favorite haunts like Yagnappana Hotlu opposite National High School grounds or Bhattra Hotlu in Gandhi bazaar for the mandatory ‘Three-by-Four Masale’ or ‘Two-by-three coffee’ in the evenings.
The best way of seeing Bangalore and getting an idea of what was happening in the city in those days was to travel by BTS route no. 11.
Route no. 11 started its journey from Gandhi bazaar in Basavanagudi opposite Vidyarthi Bhavan and took you to Tata Institute (now Indian Institute of Science) on Malleshwaram 18th cross, after eons of time spent amidst chatter, sleep and fights over annas and paisas.
Morning visitors to Vidyarthi Bhavan would already be waiting for the delicious masale dose after eating rave vade when the conductor asked the last of the commuters to get in to the bus and shouted ‘Rrrrighhttttt!’
The bus, initially coughing and moving in fits and starts, would go past the only taxi stand in the City and take its first left turn at K.R. Road and pass through Basavanagudi post office and enter Dr. H.Narasimhaiah’s National College circle and stop at diagonal road opposite Dr. Narasimhachar’s dispensary.
Here in the evenings, Gokhale, a Maharashtrian, sold ‘Brain Tonic’—a tangy kadalekai (groundnut) concoction with the goods atop his bicycle carrier. The light from his dynamo illuminated the area for you to see what you were eating and for him to check whether he has not been palmed off with ‘sawakalu kasu‘ (disfigured coin).
Gokhale claimed that students of the National High School and National College figured in the state rank list (and hence dubbed ‘kudumis’) only because his brain tonic was their staple food!
Everything on route no. 11 had “laidback” stamped on it: the issuing of tickets, getting in and out of the bus, and the bus ride itself.
At the end of Diagonal Road you entered the sanctum sanctorum of Shettys or Komatis of Bangalore who sold anything and everything that could be sold from gold to pakampappu, gulpavatte and gunthaponganalu.
The Sajjan Rao temple and choultry by the same name was much sought after for society weddings. The Satyanarayana Temple came much later as politicians became more and more crooked.
Kota Kamakshayya choultry was opposite to the best bakery in Bangalore and may be the whole of south India, the V.B. Bakery.
Dressed in spotless white panche and banians with sleeves, the staff looked as if they were running on skates taking and fetching orders for chakkuli, kodu-bale, veg “pups”, om biscuit, kharada kadale kayi, ‘Congress’ kadale kayi and ‘Badam Haalu’. V.B. Bakery’s stuff was made for the gods who, I suspect, had descended on Bangalore not only for this but also for the weather, the doses, and mallige.
Next, after passing Modern Hotel and New Modern hotel where the whiff of SKC —sweetu, khara, coffee—hit your nostrils, was the stop opposite Minerva talkies, which in those days mostly showed Tamil pictures for three shows and wore a culturally superior hat with Bengali movies and that too only Satyajit Ray for the morning shows!
I suspect most Bangaloreans got introduced to Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar—and roso gulla—only through Minerva.
A 200 meters dash from Minerva took you to Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR) in a dingy lane, which morphed into MTR as one of the best eateries in town.
After Minerva, the next stop was another theatre ‘Bharath’ which took you to the world of ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Robe’. Only Bharath and Vijalakshmi in Chikkapete showed English movies in the ‘City’ side of Banglore.
Next came ‘Shivaji’ theatre, the abode of Tamil films with a statue of Shivaji, the warrior, riding a horse on the top of the building. (MNS leader Raj Thackeray or for that matter the original tiger, Bal Thackeray, would have been pleased to see a Shivaji statue in Bangalore).
Kannada films were nonexistent or a rarity those days. Except for an occasional ‘Bedara Kannappa’, ‘Sadarame’, ‘Rathagiri Rahasya’ (the song ‘Amara Madhura Prema’ was a craze) or ‘School Master’, it was all Sivaji Ganesan and M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) who ruled the silver screen.
For a Sivaji film, taking two or three handkerchieves was mandatory because he made you cry in buckets after the interval, while an MGR film was all about romancing Saroja Devi on a full moon night or chasing villain Nambiar on a horseback in a dark black or deep scarlet outfit.
‘Gemini’ Ganesan arrived around the same time after quitting as a chemistry lecturer!
Then the bus entered Puttanna Shetty Town Hall, a marvellous building where most major functions and felicitations took place.
Kengal Hanumanthaiah was seen often here before he started planning the construction of Vidhana Soudha. When Kengal used convicts from nearby Bangalore Jail to do the cumbersome job of breaking stones into jelli, the story goes, one of them slapped Kengal when he came for his daily rounds!
MS (M.S. Subbalakshmi) sang many of her kutchheris in Town Hall so did “Flute” Mali accompanied by Mysore T. Chowdiah on violin.
Buildings like Ravindra Kalakshetra had not come up yet, but there was United Mission high school with a very large playground. Even the nearby Canara Bank came much later.
After crossing Silver Jubilee Park Road and Narasimha Raja Road, route no. 11 would hem and haw climbing the slope towards George Oaks building opposite Bangalore Corporation office and enter Cenotaph Memorial which was pulled down when some local patriots thought it depicted the days of our slavery to British.
Then the bus would cross the police commissioner’s office.
The commissioner, lucky fellow, had his residence right opposite his office! Yet when he drove in his car to his office in style, the police constables gave a guard of honour for him standing on either side of the gangway. This happened every day and a sizeable crowd collected to watch the ceremony.
At the government engineering college (which became UCE and finally UVCE) bus stop, those who took the bus to Attara Kaccheri of the government would get down and loosen up their stiff limbs as also the students of Jayachamarajendra Occupational Institute started by Sir M. Visvesvaraya from his lifetime earnings.
Those who wanted to stroll down to Cubbon Park would also get down there and if it was a Sunday they would go with their family to listen to the various orchestras which played old Hindi songs.
Much later, those who helped God to do his work went to Vidhana Soudha; they are still partners in His unfinished business.
At the next the bus stop at Maharani’s college, the young and old woke up and cranked their necks to have a look at the sari-clad demure beauties getting down.
Mount Carmel‘s which was the hep, hip girls’ college of those days came much later. The hockey stars, the Britto sisters, most of Bangalore’s athletes came from there. Shantha Rangaswamy came from Maharani’s and captained India’s women’s cricket team.
In the excitement of the Maharani’s bus stop, I almost forgot I took the bus an hour back in Gandhi bazaar which now picked up some nerve and speed, drove past Central College to the Law College stop.
Behind Central College was the Central College cricket grounds which hosted all the international matches as well as the Ranji matches. It was here that a ball from the fearsome Roy Gilchrist hit A.S. Krishnaswamy on his chest and flew off to the boundary.
Col C.K. Nayudu played here when he was past 70 along with his brother C.S. Nayudu and so did Lala Amarnath.
Central Colleges grounds was the place all the Test cricketers from Mysore/ Karnataka cut their teeth playing State ‘B’ Ramachandra Rao shield, Rohington Baria Cup for Universities, and finally the Ranji Trophy.
In the history of Indian cricket, very rarely or it has never happened, one player refusing to play for India and accompany the team to West Indies because his much revered and admired colleague was not picked in the team. This is precisely what happened when speedster G. Kasturiranagan (presently a member of the KSCA governing body) refused to join the team as the L.T. Adishesh was not selected in the team).
Along with Varadaraj, L.T. Subbu, Balaji Srinivasan (who played in an ‘unofficial’ Test for India) and later with B.S. Chandrashekar, Erapalli Prasanna, Kunjumani V.Subramanyam, Karnataka was a formidable Ranji team.
When our bus took a left to enter Majestic area, you wished you had eyes, like your ears on both sides of your head.
The only place in India or any where for that matter where so many movie houses stood cheek by jowl.
Prabhat, Sagar, States, Kempe Gowda, Himalaya, Majestic, Geetha, Jai Hind, Alankar and Kalpana theatres starting from Mysore Bank dotted the Majestic area, where most Hindi movies would be screened, quite a few of them completing their silver jubilees.
The bus disgorged people going to the railway station—there was no bus station there! The empty space between Majestic Bus Stop and Railway Station was Subhash Nagar Grounds which was used mainly for political speeches by likes of Jawaharlal Nehru and Ram Manohar Lohia.
It was in Subhash Nagar grounds that “Master” Hirannaiyya first staged his famous play ‘Lanchavathara’ lampooning corruption in politics.
During the inauguration of the play, Hirannaiyya told the audience that their livelihood depended on those who came in after buying tickets and not on the front row dignitaries who were invitees. J.B. Mallaradhya, who was the chief guest got up, walked to the counter and bought a ticket for himself and entered the theatre!
I have digressed here like my bus going all over Bangalore.
From here the bus developed wings as it were, and flew past, Ananda Rao circle, Sheshadripuram High School, Central Theatre, and entered the citadel of Malleshwaram.
At Malleshwaram circle, it took a left and after taking a right at Margosa road (on its return journey the bus took the parallel ‘Sampige’ Road) started its journey towards Tata Institute going past Malleshwaram Tiffin Rooms, where people waited for their Mysore masale, and the Ganapathy temple at 8th cross.
By the time the bus entered 16th cross most of the commuters had emptied the bus, and because of the steep gradient, the bus behaved as if it was going up Nandi hills with the conductor holding the bar with both hands with a prayer on his lips.
On the 17 cross Road, students of Malleshwaram School got down with a stoop looking couple of inches shorter since they boarded the bus. Then the bus went for its home stretch to the Tata Institute which came about because of the foresight and visionary of Jamshedjee Tata who thought India should produce its own great scientists and chose Bangalore instead of Bombay to set up the Institute.
Nobel Laureate Sir C.V. Raman started his own Institute, Raman Research Institute, after his differences with Tata Institute.
Bangalore of those days was a place filled with fewer people but one had a lot of choices to choose from for entertainment.
Like a Binny vs Blues football match; a Mirza Shield cricket match between Bangalore Cricketers and BUCC; an MEG vs HAL hockey fixture; MTR vs. Vidyarthi Bhavan dosa; City Institute Ramanavami Celebrations vs Seshadripuram Sangeetha Sabha….
Lalbagh vs Cubbon Park; Aa Naa Kru vs Tha Raa Su; G.P. Rajaratnam vs Beechi, but P. Kalinga Rao stood alone with his brand of ‘Yaaru hithavaru ninge ee moovarolage‘ and ‘Baaraiyya Belabingale’.
It is a pity BTS , now BMTC, has changed the numbers of various bus routes in Bangalore unlike in Bombay where bus routes have remained the same for over 50 years. Thus, “165” still goes from Sion to Prabhadevi, “8 Ltd” goes from Chembur to Flora Fountain, and so on.
But route no. 11 is a different story.
Photograph: South Parade or what is now M.G. Road.