| The two-storey, red-and-white, brick-and-mortar structure, standing right next to the 24-storey Bangalore City Corporation (bcc)-owned public utility building, would make any heritage buff proud. More so, Lord Mayo-the fourth governor-general of India after whom British architects put up this magnificent public building in 1883, 11 years after the Ireland-born leader was stabbed to death in the Andamans. |
In Bangalore, the restoration of treasured landmarks like the Mayo Hall, located on the city's most famous thoroughfare named after Mahatma Gandhi, has come as a pleasant surprise for heritage lovers like Almitra Patel who had faced defeat in her attempts to get the Government to introduce legislation to preserve old buildings, similar to the English Heritage laws in the UK. "Even some token efforts by the city administration, at whatever level, are welcome," says Patel, former head of the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non-profit, non-government group that spearheads efforts to restore the city's heritage buildings.
Over the past few months, a slew of decrepit buildings, temple tanks and even an ammunition depot has come under the restorer's scalpel. Established in 1984, INTACH has also been trying to promote the conservation of natural and man-made environment across the country. Even as the Indian Silicon Valley cruises on the information superhighway, there must be a conscious effort to restore it to its past glory, observes Mistral Software founder Rajeev Ramachandra, who has initiated a drive to plant trees and preserve ancient monuments. The Mayo Hall building's facade, for example, had lost its lustre, the rosewood staircase had been damaged and even the floors showed chinks. Its tall, tapering Tuscan columns had once boasted gold-painted Corinthian capitals, with the mouldings above adorned with minute friezes in mortar. "Most of its key features had chipped off and the pedimented windows had cracks," recalls INTACH local convener and architect Pratibha H.R., whose proposal in 2004 to restore the building won the support of then bcc chief M.R. Sreenivasa Murthy. Murthy was prompt in sanctioning wholesale restoration of all old buildings within his jurisdiction, even picking up the tab of Rs 25 lakh towards restoration charges. "It is vital to keep history alive and easy to forge links with groups like INTACH," he says.
Another priceless landmark that nearly disappeared is the armoury of 18th century warrior Tipu Sultan. Before Pratibha and her team restored it last year, the 50-ft long, 20-ft wide armoury was lying buried under thick weeds behind Bangalore Medical College in Kalasipalayam, frequented only by dust, vehicular pollution and paramours who scrawled their names on its crumbling walls. Inside, the Tiger of Mysore had at one time stored huge quantities of ammunition, gun powder, muskets, rockets and missiles that inflicted heavy losses on the British army. "I am glad it has been restored, even if it took a long while," says Bangalore development minister Roshan Baig.
However, the Government's lack of initiative in passing laws to retain some old private buildings has drawn severe flak. The nearly century-old Cash Pharmacy building on Residency Road was, for instance, sold off to a developer who later vowed to retain its traditional design. But another famous landmark, the Victoria Hotel on M.G. Road, was pulled down to make way for a gargantuan shopping mall. "You can retain your century-old bungalow only if you have the money to maintain it," says Priya Mascarenhas, who resides in one such structure.
Heritage lovers also rue the dismissal of the Bangalore Urban Arts Commission (buac) in 2002. The independent watchdog of heritage buildings was shown the door after it opposed the S.M. Krishna government's plans to demolish the old Government Press buildings to build the present secretariat, the Vikas Soudha. There is no agency to veto or grant permission for demolition of heritage buildings, says Suresh Moona of the voluntary group Association for Reviving Awareness about the Monuments of Bangalore Heritage. "There is a need for greater sensitivity towards heritage conservation and also for the Government to play a role," says K.S. Ananthakrishna, head of the school of architecture at the city's R.V. College of Engineering.
Inspiration can be found in the restored temple tank at Sampangiramanagar or the repairs done to the watchtowers established by the city's founder Kempe Gowda three centuries ago. INTACH is also working on the 100-year-old Indian Institute of Science's main building that has an enduring clock tower, besides painstakingly renovating the Sir Puttannachetty Town Hall and pre-Independence Imperial Bank buildings.
For impetus, one could refer to the report drafted in 1994 by then chief secretary and author of City Beautiful T.P. Issar, BUAC chief M.A. Parthasarathy and late Naomi Meadows of INTACH. It recommended formation of a heritage conservation commission with statutory powers and funding to help the city retain its heritage buildings. That report, invariably, is also gathering dust.