Fading Colours of Colonial Townships

BY ZOHRA FATHIMA

Subsequent to the British era, Richmond Town in Bangalore stood monumental in bridging the gap between the Indians and the British. Named after Thomas Richmond, a philanthropist and an Anglo-Indian barrister in the British government who also happened to own a bungalow there, it is one of the prime localities of the city.

The area has many by lanes like Wellington Street, Berlie Street, Myrtle Lane, and Alexandria Street that once boasted numerous Victorian bungalows, which adorned the sidewalks with their lofty monkey top roofs, covered in pink or white Bougainvillea, exuding the charm of the colonial era. Now only a hand full of these quintessential architectural pieces remain as last strings holding on to the nostalgic past.

The bungalows had a verandah, porch, servant quarters, and vegetable gardens. The occupants were believed to be high-profile officers who sold it to the Indians post-independence.

The area is replete with facilities such as a market, iconic churches, and reputed convents set up by the British social workers; Baldwin’s and Frank Anthony’s schools were the sought-after choices for schooling. The convents were run by Anglo-Indian teachers who spoke impeccable English and were uncompromising of discipline and manners, yet came across as suitably affectionate caregivers.

Baldwin’s nurtured me in all spheres and it was my second home. The teachers were dedicated to their profession and took great pride in shaping young minds and in this process, we acquired their European personality, mannerisms, and culture thus leaving the place confident enough to take on globalization without much ado.

The school had very colourful personalities for teachers. The most atypical was Mr. Aubrey Mitchell. A fabulous guitar player; instrumental in forming the school band which won the accolade of the best school band in the south of India. There was one rule that you couldn’t break in Mr. Mitchell’s class; the way he expected students to greet him like a military soldier when he stepped into class. Everyone had to stand in attention all at once and say “good afternoon Mr. Mitchell!”  in a single tone of perfectly modulated voice. If anyone derailed at the slightest, that student had to face the music! That’s the last time I met any teacher who took a creative education seriously in our academic-driven world.

As a resident of Richmond Town, we had a special relationship with the place going back to my great grandparents who resided there and closely interacted with the Britishers. They always had stories to tell and experiences to share.  My great grandfather and his brothers owned a ration shop and a billiards parlour that hosted the Britishers and catered to their grocery needs. Occasionally, they received lavish gifts of sentimental worth from the officers for just being good gentlemen. Our house was located in the middle of Richmond Road, the entrance to the house was a trellised verandah that ran into a spacious backyard with a Mulberry and a Guava tree, where we as kids amused ourselves for hours together basking in the sunshine of warm Bangalore Summers.

Visiting the Johnson Market with my father was a weekly ritual on Sundays, days when walks were enjoyable without the jostling traffic. The market is designed as small alleys with vendors on each side selling the best of produce. The market was set up on a horse stable belonging to a Persian trader, Aga Ali Asker. The structure still stands strong inscribed with the date 1929. The market served as a social place for busy men who sauntered out only on weekends. They discussed the current affairs over meat and vegetables for sometimes more than a few minutes much to the boredom of us kids who tagged along with the parents.

A measuring cup that belonged to Zohra’s grandmother. Such cups were used by grocers in Bangalore during British rule.

The legacy of the British is the Anglo-Indian community. They are responsible for merging the Indo-European culture and yet retaining their English Identity. Their eating habits were a potluck of traditional English, European and Indian foods that developed into a new cuisine to suit the British palate. This influenced the kind of restaurants and bakeries that sprung up in and around Richmond Town of unswerving quality.

Koshy’s was set up in 1952, by Prem Koshy and his ancestors. The bakery and the restaurant are known for their irreplaceable old flavours. Toms Restaurant served authentic Christian Mangalorean cuisine, the only restaurant perhaps serving niche dishes like Beef Baffat, Vindaloos, and Ghee roasts. Followed by the Only Place on Museum road- an answer to fine dining in the early 90s that dished out juicy steaks and the best Fish N ‘Chips in town. And finally, how can one not mention the legendary Fatima Bakery, a restaurant cum bakery that has the best Kheema Dosa and pillowy-soft bread for feisty breakfast Sundays.

I will always cherish the most delightful memory of the place; of walking around Richmond town donning my best frock, greeting prim and properly dressed ladies, who smelled heavily of perfumed talc, and waiting for them to say to me “hello darling! how are you today?” with their warmest smiles.

The early 90s perhaps marked the beginning of a fast-changing landscape and the waning of Bangalore’s golden age. This meant we were the last generation to experience the remains of the colonization and withering cosmopolitan cities. The Anglo-Indian community with its culture has fast dwindled since then. The last of the well-known Anglos living in this area, Mr. Allen Shepard is said to have left this earthly realm very recently to the wider community’s remorse.

What stands as evidence of the past of these people who enriched history is spotting a remaining bungalow named after its owners like Britto, Thomas manor, or D’Souza while taking a walk down the lanes. The environment in these areas has undergone drastic changes, leaving behind a distant memory of what there once was. It’s a matter of time before we are left with not even a trace of the bygone era. This was perhaps the crowning glory of the garden city which is fast disappearing altogether.

Zohra Fathima is a teetotaller, a photography aficionado and a nature lover. Right now she’s very busy living her life through the eyes of her feisty 2-year-old. She’s also a baker at heart and a writer by accident.