The unseen Bengaluru of lost water tanks & tiny streets

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China Mieville’s Hugo Award-winning novel ‘The City & The City’ is a crime thriller set in two cities — Beszel and Ul Qoma — that share the same geographic area. But unlike ‘twin cities’ of the real world, there is a twist.

Citizens of Beszel consciously and dutifully ‘unsee’ anything that belongs to Ul Qoma —  people, buildings, events, everything. And vice versa. Citizens of Ul Qoma see nothing of Beszel. While this work of fiction takes things to an extreme, something like this happens in almost every large city. Bengaluru is no exception.

A search for images of Bengaluru’s skyline and views of UB City are the most common results. However, hiding at the edges of these images is one of Bengaluru’s oldest areas and yet one that many residents of the tonier parts of town know hardly anything about  — Sampangirama Nagar.

For centuries, the focal point of this area was the Sampangi Tank that Kempegowda built to ensure water supply to the city he founded nearby. By the late 19th century, with the city moving on to other water sources, the Sampangi Tank lost that utility. And in the 1940s, a large chunk of it was reclaimed to build a sports stadium.

A small portion of the tank was still kept as a tank though, so that certain traditions, most prominent among them being the Karaga, could still include the tank in its itinerary. On really rainy days, one does get a glimpse of what the Sampangi Tank might have been like in its glory days. I remember a football match between the Bengaluru Football Club and East Bengal from a couple of years ago when the skies opened up, and the football match soon began to resemble water polo.

Sampangirama Nagar, which adjoined the tank, used to have multiple smaller kalyanis usually attached with temples. Most of them have been built over today, but one of them still survives, and one can see this kalyani bedecked with oil lamps during Shivaratri. The area, while staying hidden right under the nose of the posher Bengaluru, has managed to maintain a nice quirky character of its own.

The quirkiest of the lot might be Siddappa though, who, some decades ago, in order to make ends meet, decided to put his culinary skills to use, and started serving breakfast at his tiny home.

The fame of his idlis and dosas quickly spread. Even today you have people queuing up outside his house for the three hours he is open for business. The demand for his masala dosa is so high that you are served only half a dosa to ensure that everyone who is waiting gets to eat. Oh, and there are no tables. You sit on benches or chairs. There are no plates either, and managing to eat off the leaves without spilling any of the chutney or saagu is a skill worth acquiring.

Another old Bengaluru locality that hides in the cross-hatches is Kempapura Agrahara or KP Agrahara for short. This locality is off Binnypet and Magadi Road, quite close to the City Railway Station. It has tiny streets that were made for horse carts and pedestrians. It is densely populated. But unlike the commercial pete areas, not busy at all and utterly laid back.

Even its 1st Main Road is so narrow that the only BMTC route that services the area (55-B) operates not an actual bus, but a minivan. Its history dates back to 48 parcels of land that were gifted by Kempegowda II. Most of these were donated to Brahmins as was the custom then, but there was one gifted to a Vokkaliga named Veeresha with the reason given that ‘he made the king very happy when he was visiting Srirangapatna’. Now this is one story I wish I could find out more about. 

(Thejaswi Udupa is a writer who thinks of Bengaluru as home and, naturally, has very strong opinions about the city and its boundaries)

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