A heritage walk down Fraser Town on a warm summer morning made my day. The walk organised by INTACH started at the intersection of Mosque Road and Coles Road close to 8am. I was one of the first to reach. The otherwise busy junction wore a nice and quiet look reminiscent of old Bangalore. While hardly any vehicles could be spotted on the road, quite a few people had gathered at a road-side tea stall. Among the lot, two ladies with knapsacks on their backs and cameras strung around their necks stood out. I guessed they had come for the walk and walked towards them. When I reached them the three of us as if in synchronised fashion asked each other, “Have you come for the walk?”. And in an equally synchronised fashion we said, “Yeah”. “Why don’t you also get yourself a cup of tea?” said one of them and continued, “We are early and have lot of time on hand”. I looked at my watch and shook my head to agree. I normally desist having tea at roadside stalls for obvious reasons. But this time I was tempted to indulge in a cuppa. I just had to pay 7 bucks. Wow! It didn’t taste bad and I must say it removed all traces of sleep from within me.
In another 10 minutes, the other walkers gradually started coming in. Among them was Priti, one of my heritage walk friends. It felt nice to see a familiar face. The walk lead Meera also joined in; again hers was another familiar face.
To start with, we were shown the plaque commemorating Fraser Town. Like on my last walk (a photography walk more than two years back), the plaque is sadly a picture of neglect and hardly noticeable. The idea of developing Fraser Town and other small towns around the area was conceived after the plague that swept Bangalore in 1898. Some congested parts of Bangalore like Shivajinagar had to be decongested and townships had to be developed in other parts of Bangalore to prevent this problem in the future.
According to long-time residents of Fraser Town, Mosque Road which is easily one of the busiest roads in this part of Bangalore was very silent in the 1970s and looked picture perfect with colonial bungalows skirting it on both sides.
A 1907 picture of a layout in Fraser Town consisting of 66 feet by 33 feet plots complete with conservancy lanes is in stark contrast to what the place has become today. Like in most parts of the city, most of the greenery here seems to have vanished.
When we stopped by to admire a 1920s house, a man possibly the current owner drove his scooter out of the courtyard even as he announced, “No photos please”. Poor man! Real estate sharks may be time and again driving him up the wall! The Not For Sale sign on the gate says it all. Luckily, I had already taken a picture of the beauty (although not a good one) before he came into the picture.
We passed another vintage house, this one built in 1939. There were a lot of sacks and bricks around. Wonder what they were doing there? And then there were two more. The last one had the “Not For Sale” sign accompanied by another with “Do Not Disturb”.
A community cowshed in the vicinity, our next destination, was the surprise package of the walk. Built in 1915, the cowshed has a capacity to hold 144 cows. Currently, there are 150 bovines belonging to 30 milkmen. The milk is distributed to dairy farms, houses and there are some customers who pick up the milk at the shed. Most of the milkmen belong to a generation of milkmen whose fathers and grandfathers too rented the shed. The idea of having such a cowshed was to make availability of milk easier for people in the locality. Sadly, the BBMP is planning to demolish the shed and use the land for commercial purposes. If it goes ahead with the plan, the livelihood of the milkmen is going to be affected. They pay a rent of INR 15 for the sheds which is considerably cheap. During the early 1900s the rent was only Rs 5. And it also means one more heritage structure gone.
Our next halt was at the Moore Road meat market which was a primary source of meat for the residents during the colonial era.
As we walked we came across what was once a “nalla” or storm water drain built by the British and what has now become a sewage. During the times of the Raaj, the nalla was so clean that locals would launch paper boats in the waters. Some of them would indulge in rounds of fishing too. These pastimes are unthinkable now. Some of the locals recollect that not so long ago the residents did not feel the need for a sump because there was enough pressure for the water to go up.
Annasamy Mudaliar who was a famous local in this part of Bangalore was a grain merchant, contractor and philanthropist who donated hugely for public causes. Among other things, he is credited with building a dispensary, a market and school. Three roads in this area are named after his three sons – Madhavaraya, Chelluvaraya and Achyutaraya.
We were next taken on a recce of Annasamy Mudaliar School. With a sprawling playground part of which was a farm till the 1980s and a snow white colonial style building, the school is a perfect copy book academic institution just what children need. Plus there are so many trees all around and Indie dogs all of them well looked after. It was heartening to note that each of the dogs also has a name.
Annasamy Mudaliar started the school way back in 1907 for underprivileged children most of them children of night soil workers who could not afford schooling. The medium of instruction at the school is Tamil but from June, if things go well, the school will also be imparting education in English.
It felt nice to be visiting this unique educational institution. When we left the campus some of the dogs too came to give us a send-off. Aww! I’m sure they were missing all the children as the summer vacations were on.
Our next halt was at the dispensary built by Annasamy Mudaliar in 1907. It seemed to be undergoing some sort of renovation.
Like Annasamy Mudaliar, another prominent resident of this area Haji Sir Ismail Sait donated immensely for various causes. The mosque named after him stands tall on the road which has taken the name Mosque Road after this very mosque. Sir Sait also started a girls-only school in the area to encourage Muslim girls to pursue academics.
People from different religions and communities co-existed peacefully in Fraser Town and amidst great camaraderie.
We next took the footbridge near the railway track to reach Richards Park to visit Bungalow 7, our next stopover. The beautiful edifice which has been residence to many families in the past is now a performing space. The charming interiors, the sprawling garden, and outhouses serve as indicators to what life was in the early 1900s.
The walk ended at Richards Park which was the venue of an INTACH exhibition on yester years’ Fraser Town, Cooke Town and Richards Town.