Colour bar at prestigious clubs

LAST NIGHT, THE 18th of January 2023, a relative by marriage hosted us for dinner at a historic swimming club in Kolkata. It was established in 1887. However, it was not until the 1960s that Indians were able to become members.

Despite India becoming independent of British rule in 1947, many of the prestigious clubs established in India prior to that date did not admit Indians as members until several years later.

In the 1960s, when eventually the Tollygunge Club in South Kolkata began admitting Indians as members, my father-in-law was offered membership to this exclusive previously ‘whites only’ club. He turned down the offer because he was a nationalist at heart and was upset that the Club had remained racist so long after 1947. In contrast, he happily became a member of the Bangalore Club, which welcomed Indian members almost immediately after Independence.

It is a mark of the tolerance of Indians that elite clubs (and some schools) were allowed to exclude non-Europeans so long after 1947, and, incidentally, that statues of Queen Victoria (and other British ‘worthies’) can still be found intact in many Indian cities.

Bangalore’s green lung

PARKS ARE SAID to be a city’s lungs. They are places where one can escape from the noises and fumes mainly created by traffic. On New Year’s Day 2023, we took a walk in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park. Almost as soon as we had entered it, the air seemed cleaner, and we experienced an uplifting sense of serenity.

Cubbon Park was laid out in 1870 under the direction of Major General Richard Sankey, British Chief Engineer of Mysore State. Initially named after Sir John Meade, it was later renamed to honour Sir Mark Cubbon (1775 – 1861), the longest serving Commissioner of Mysore State. The name was changed again in 1927 to Sri Chamarajendra Park, in honour of Sri Chamarajendra Wodeyar (1863–1794), ruler of Mysore State when the park was created. There is a statue of this man in the park. Despite that change of name, the place is still popularly known as Cubbon Park. Even the recently built metro station at the northern edge of the park has that name.

The popular park has plenty of trees that provide shade. Many different species grow in the park, several of them flowering trees. Footpaths cris-cross the park, but visitors do not need to be confined to them. A main road winds its way through the verdant landscape, but this is closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays.

Words are inadequate to convey the joys of Cubbon Park. Only by entering this lovely island of nature in Bangalore’s ocean of urban development can one appreciate the beauty and delightfulness of this city’s important green lung.

Oldest post box in Bangalore

WHEN MRS BRONSON OPENED her 10 bed boarding house in Bangalore in 1887, it became the city’s first hotel. Her establishment became The West End Hotel. It was, and is still, the best hotel in Bangalore. Set in beautiful grounds, the West End is home to Bangalore’s supposedly oldest letter box.

The cast-iron cylindrical pillar box is surmounted by a royal crown, below which are the words “post office”. The word “letter” is below the crown and above the slot for inserting mail. Below this slot, there is a large plate with mail collection times engraved on it. The plate seems to be newer than the rest of the pillar box.

Beneath the plate, there is a circular cartouche with lettering that has become difficult to read because it has been painted over so many times. However, I could make out the word “Greenock” and other wwords including “suttie”, “tho”, “street”, and “??thga??”. These indistinct words allowed me to direct my search of the Internet.

I discovered that Thomas Suttie of Greenock manufactured pillar boxes identical to the one at The West End in 1858. Only one of these has survived in the UK, but 7 or 8 of them can still be found in India. They are at The West End, in Vire, in Darjeeling, in Shimla, and two in Kasauli. There are also a few in Pakistan. One example, dated 1856, stands in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The year 1858 is of interest. It was when the Indian Uprising, which commenced in 1857, was coming to an end. It was also when the British Government decided to take over the governig of India from the East India Company.

The Suttie pillar box at The West End is still in use. Mail is collected from it three times a day. Given its date of manufacture, it is much older than The West End Hotel. Why it stands there is a mystery to me. Maybe the hotel acquired it as an antique curio. This is the third functioning historic post box I have seen in Bangalore. The other two are at the Bangalore Club and its near neighbour, The Bowring Institute.

A postman and his spear

Happy New Year!

NEXT TO THE POST OFFICE on the corner of Bangalore’s Museum and State Bank of India Roads, there is a recently opened Museum of Communication. Housed in an old-fashioned Bangalorean bungalow, it is effectively a museum of the Indian postal services. This well laid out museum contains a variety of exhibits ranging from postage stamps to large pieces of mechanised equipment. I will describe a few of the many exhibits that interested me.

There is a photograph of the world’s highest post office (somewhere in the Himalayas). There is an enormous piece of equipment, which occupies the whole of a room. It was used for transmission of money orders. Several panels described the history of the Indian freedom struggle and that of the Indian Post.

Outside on the museum’s shady verandah, there is a collection of old letter boxes. They include boxes of various shapes, sizes, and colours. One of them bears the Portuguese words “CAIXA POSTAL”. Once upon a time, it must have been used in one of Portugal’s Indian colonies, but there was no information about its original location.

Outside the museum, and still in use, there is a hexagonal pillar box, very similar to one placed at the Bowring Institute in the late 1880s. Unlike the one at Bowring, which bears the British Indian postal insignia, the box near the museum has been modified to make it look like a post-Independence Indian Post pillar box.

Next to the entrance to the museum, also on the verandah, there is aalifesize model of an Indian postman of yesteryear. Wearing a green and white uniform (including a turban) with some red trim, he has a sack slung over his left shoulder. His right hand is stretche out in front of him. In it he holds a wooden shaft tipped with a sharp metal spear tip. Four small bells are attached to the base of this tip. A lantern hangs from his right wrist.

In the past, the postman mafe his way from village to village along paths through the jungle. The spear tip and its staff were used to ward off wild animals. The lantern was used to light his way, and the bells were rung to alert villagers to his arrival.

Visiting the museum was an interesting experience. Seeing the hardships that postmen used to face should make us pleased that we can now communicate using fax, email, and other modern inventions.

A fine old coffee house with waiters in turbans

WHEN I FIRST VISITED Bangalore in 1994, there was a coffee house on MG Road close to the now derelict Srungar Shopping Complex. This venerable ‘hole in the wall’ was a branch of the Indian Coffee House (‘ICH’) chain. In both appearance and atmosphere it reminded me of some of the older coffee houses I had seen in Yugoslavia when it was still a country.

Customers sat at old wooden tables on wooden benches with upright hard backrests. Old Coffee Board posters hung on the walls. The waiters were dresses in grubby white jackets and trousers held up by an extremely wide red and gold belt with huge buckles that bore the logo of the ICB. These gentlemen wore white turbans with red and gold ribbons on their heads. On addition to rather average quality South Indian filter coffee, a variety of snacks and cold drinks were also available.

During the British occupation of India, admission to most coffee houses was restricted to European clients. In the late 1890s, the idea of establishing an ICH chain of coffee houses for Indian customers began to be considered. In 1936, the India Coffee Board opened the first ICH in Bombay’s Churchgate area By the 1940s, there were at least 50 branches all over what was then British India.

In the mid 1950s, the ICHs were closed by the Coffee Board. The Communist leader AK Gopalan (1904-1977) and the Coffee Board workers managed to get the Coffee Board to hand over the ICH outlets to them, and they formed a series of Indian Coffee Workers’ Co-operatives. The cooperative on Bangalore was formed in August 1957. There are now several branches in the city.

The MG Road branch, which opened in 1959, closed in 2009, at about the sane time as the nearby Srungar Complex began becoming closed for redevelopment, which has not yet happened.

The branch reopened in the Brigade Gardens complex on Church Street. Apart from being accommodated in a room which is rather nondescript compared to its former home, not much has changed as a result of the move to a new location. The furniture is that which was in the older site. Likewise, the old posters have been transferred. And the waiters are still attired in their stained white uniforms with belt, buckle, and turbans. The ‘atmosphere’ of the old ICH on MG Road has been recreated or maybe continued in the coffee house’s new premises. The quality of the coffee served has neither improved nor deteriorated. The ICH remains as popular as ever, and for me it is always a pleasure to enter this old-fashioned place in a city that is addicted to change.

A long way from Paris

BANGALORE IS ABOUT 4800 miles from Paris (France). The French capital is noted for its gourmet delights, but on the whole the same cannot be said for Bangalore. One exception to this statement is Sunny’s restaurant currently located on Lavelle Road.

Arjun Sajnani created Sunny’s at least 25 years ago. Then, it was in a tall narrow house on a lane leading off Lavelle Road. The kitchen was on the ground floor and there were dining areas in the two floors above it. Often, Arjuna could be standing, working in the kitchen. Back in those early days, Sunny’s was one of Bangalore’s few suppliers of imported Western European cheeses, such as genuine parmesan.

Later, Sunny’s shifted to larger premises on the corner of Lavelle and Vittal Mallya Roads, next to a petrol filling station. The dining area was elegant.

For a brief period, Arjun ran a restaurant serving delicious Sindhi dishes in his original premises. Sadly, he decided to discontinue this interesting eatery.

Even later, Arjun shifted his restaurant to its present location – a two storey villa constructed about 20 years ago. The balconies on the upper floor are supported by stout carved timber pillars which remind one of pillars that you can see in much older traditional South Indian edifices. Diners can sit at tables within the building, or in the garden surrounding it, or on the first floor balconies. At lunchtime on Christmas Day 2022, every table was occupied.

At each of Sunny’s different locations, the food has been magnificent. As our daughter correctly said, eating at Sunny’s is as good as eating in a good Parisian restaurant. Also, Sunny’s Italian food (mainly pasta and pizzas) is above average in quality.

Arjun is an actor and director of theater and films, in addition to being a restaurateur. Dramatic productions require many skills. The same is the case for running a restaurant. Some of the required skills are the same for restaurants and for stage/screen. A restaurateur has to perform well both in the kitchen and the dining room to satisfy his or her clientele. Arjun achieves this successfully. If you have never been to Sunny’s, give it a try!

From paper come plants

A TALL MINARET OVERLOOKS Ebrahim Saheb Street in Bangalore’s busy Commercial Street bazaar district. Not far from the lofty structure stands the premises of a printing firm called Sundaram. It is here at this efficient enterprise that I have often had visiting (business) cards printed.

Recently, I went to Sundaram’s to collect my latest batch of cards. While I was waiting to have them packed, I noticed a man in the shop, folding what looked like A3 sized sheets of plain white paper. He folded them in half lengthwise. I asked him what he was doing, and he replied:
“Seed papers”
I must have looked puzzled because the owner of the business added:
“You put them in the ground and plants will come. You leave them in the ground after plants have come. The papers have seeds in them.”
He told me that these seed papers were made in Coimbatore, a town south of Bangalore. Then, he went to the rear of his shop and brought me a few offcuts of the seed paper.

The paper is quite thick and rather stiff. It has a slightly rough surface. When you examine it you can see well spaced, small darkish thickenings. These spots are the seeds, which have been incorporated into the biodegradable paper.

Not being a gardener, I had not come across seed paper before. It has been around for many centuries. Until 1941, it used to be handmade in small batches, but after that year it began to be made on an industrial scale.

The paper can incorporate a variety of seeds from flowers to edible plants. I suppose that the advantages of seed papers include appropriate spacing of seeds and protection from consumption by birds etc.

When I entered Sundaram’s to pick up my cards, little did I expect to learn about seed paper, or to discover horticultural material being processed in a printing shop. It is surprises such as these that make visiting India so much fun.

Holy Communion and covid19

ST MARKS CATHEDRAL in Bangalore was constructed between 1808 and 1812. It is an elegant late Baroque church standing in its own spacious grounds. We visited it on Christmas Day 2022. There was a service in progress. The congregation was too large to be fully accommodated within the building. Many people were sitting outside the church, some of them under a canopy. The service was conveyed to those outside the building using loudspeakers and a giant television screen.

While the cleric began reciting the words associated with taking communion, he spoke of receiving the body of Christ. As he said that, I noticed a woman in the congregation opening a small container and taking a small flat white object from it, and then slipping it into her mouth.

A man nearby asked if we wished to take communion, and then pointed to a table covered with small round plastic containers with lids. Each of these contains a communion wafer fragment and some “communion nectar”, which I imagine represents the blood of Christ.

At St Mark’s, it appears that Holy Communion is self-administered, rather than being handed out by a cleric, as is the case in most churches where I have witnessed Holy Communion. I wondered whether these little pots of Holy Communion ‘ingredients’ are an attempt to reduce the risk of transmitting disease in these times when the covid19 virus is so prevalent.

Still standing but for how much longer?

COMMERCIAL STREET IN Bangalore (Bengaluru) is one of the main arteries of a busy shopping district – a bazaar area – in the centre of the city. It is close to an area occupied by military establishments, descendants of a former British military base, to which Sir Winston Churchill (no friend of India) was attached briefly when he was a young man. Another main road, Kamaraj Road, in the area used to be known as Cavalry Road. And another reminder of the area’s military proximity is Infantry Road that runs into the Commercial Street area.

There is a network of narrow lanes that run through the bazaar district. These are lined with shops of varying sizes, tradesmen, artisans, cafés, and other businesses. Numerous motorcyclists and autorickshaws thread their way through the crowds of pedestrians thronging the streets. I suspect that only a small number of these people notice or are interested in the architecture of the buildings lining these lanes. I am one of that small minority.

Many of the buildings in the bazaar are either modern or post 1947. There are still some earlier edifices still standing. Some are gradually falling to pieces and others are in good condition.

Recently, I was taking pictures of some of the older buildings and their traditional decorative features when a man came up to me and said:
“Very old. Historic buildings. Old, very old.”
How old they are, I do not know, but it is likely that they were already standing when India became independent in 1947. I did not ask the man, who commented on the buildings’ age, exactly when they were built. One of my reasons for not doing so was a consequence of an instance in Junagadh (a city in Gujarat) some years ago. We were looking at an interesting mausoleum in the centre of Junagadh, wondering about its age, when we asked a bystander when it was built. He answered:
“I don’t know. I wasn’t born then.”

The few intact attractive, old buildings in the Commercial Street bazaar area are lovely to behold. Given how many of them have already been replaced, I wonder how much longer those remaining will survive.