Come rain or shine...

Last Updated 28 November 2011, 12:20 IST

It all started a few months ago, when I chanced upon Francis Buchanan’s book ‘A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar’, which chronicles his journey between 1800 and 1801.

On page 44, in his report for May 10, 1800, he says, “In the morning I travelled from Catcolli (today’s Kadugodi) to Bangalore, through a very naked country, of which about six-tenths appear to be arable. The remainder is covered with low bushes, and much of it seems capable of being brought into cultivation.

Not above a twentieth part of the arable ground is watered.” He further adds, “The morning being cool and pleasant, I walked through the ruins of the Fort of Bangalore.” Now that’s a far cry from how I would have imagined a mid-summer morning to be like.
As I move to page 46, the date is May 11, 1800, when he visits Lal Bagh.

He writes, “In this climate the cypress and vine grow luxuriantly, and the apple and peach both produce fruit.” These are the earliest references to Bangalore’s climate that I could lay my hands on. It’s worthwhile to note that Buchanan describes the landscape as naked, and covered with low bushes. It were these intriguing references that got me interested and thus began my archival search about Bangalore’s climate.

Looking through the archives, I spotted an interesting excerpt from a medical journal called ‘The Medico-chirurgical review and journal of practical medicine’. (Chirurgical is an old term for ‘surgical’.) This volume, published in 1834, has an article ‘On the climate of Bangalore and the prevalence of Hepatitis at the station’ is written by a doctor named J Mouat, a surgeon with the 13th Light Dragoons.

From a different source I gather that Dr Mouat was stationed at one of the Military Hospitals in Bangalore, and as a part of his medical research on hepatitis, he also did a meteorological study of the City. His article starts with the following words, “Previously to the establishment of a salutarium in the Nilgherries, Bangalore was considered the Montpellier of Madras – and it still maintains its character.”

Further the author claims, “Bangalore is a table-land, nearly 3,000 feet above the level of the sea, enclosed by the Eastern and Western Ghauts, and its climate is comparatively cool. The aspect is generally barren and jungly. The air is always elastic, and generally pleasant, even in the hot season; and during the monsoons moist, but not relaxing or disagreeable, though at times cool and chilly.

Too much can scarcely be said in praise of the climate of Bangalore: it is truly excellent, and convalescence most rapid even from acute disease.” Again, it’s interesting to note the comment about the terrain and the climate.

At this point, I wonder, reading the earlier descriptions about the terrain of Bangalore as barren, jungly, covered with low bushes and so on, if the vegetation that we see today has had anything to do with the cool climate of the City. I am no meteorologist to explain, but nevertheless it’s an interesting question to ask.

Moving to other sources, a book called, ‘The History of the British Colonies’, published in 1834, the author R Montgomery Martin echoes the words of Mouat, and says, “Bangalore is one of the healthiest stations in India, and remarkable for the purity and wholesomeness of its atmosphere.”

Delightful Bangalore
I next stumbled upon a collection of articles and poems called ‘The Wesleyan Juvenile Offering by Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society’ published in 1849. One of the articles titled ‘Fort and Pettah of Bangalore’ makes a rather sarcastic comparison between the climates of Bangalore and Madras.

The article starts with the following text, “A Lady writing from India gives the following description of Bangalore: “I am charmed with Bangalore. The climate at this time of the year is delightful, equal to any in Europe. For the first two or three days there was a good deal of fog; but it has now cleared away, and all is so cool, clear, and bright, that it is quite a pleasure to feel oneself breathing. The early mornings especially are as pleasant as anything I can imagine. They have all the sweetness and freshness of an English summer. The air smells of hay and flowers, instead of ditches, dust, fried oil, curry, and onions, which are the best of the Madras smells.”

This is not the only text which compares the climates of Madras and Bangalore. Several travellers have made similar comments, probably because Madras used to be their port of entry, and landing there straight from Europe, would have given them a rude shock in terms of the climate, and as they move westwards towards the Military Station at Bangalore, they experience a more temperate climate. It could also be because the then Madras was much more populated than Bangalore.

I later came across a letter written by the Commissioner of Mysore, Camp Yelwall, on July 24, 1861, to his Excellency the Honorable Governor of Madras, Fort St. George. The letter is in the context of reduction of force based in Bangalore.

This letter tells us how important the weather was for the Europeans stationed in India. He writes, “The climate of Bangalore is so well suited to the European constitution, and there are so few localities better adapted in the southern peninsula for the concentration of a respectable European force, with the exception of Secundrabad, where a large force is absolutely required upon political grounds, that I should regret much to see any considerable reduction in the force of Europeans at Bangalore carried into effect.”

Good old days
The next excerpt is worthy of note, not because it praises the climate of Bangalore, but because like all old timers in the city who lament about the how the weather used to be, it claims that the City has become much warmer than what it was some 20 years ago.
Here’s the excerpt from the journal, ‘The Popular Science – A quarterly miscellany of entertaining instructive articles on scientific subjects’ published in 1868. The editor in the section Meteorology refers to another article in the Madras Times which claims that the City has become warmer in the past 20 years.

It says “...and at Bangalore the fire-places of the old houses prove how much colder was its climate in former years than at present. Old sepoys have informed him also that in Bangalore, some twenty years ago their fingers were so benumbed with cold on early morning parades, that they found some difficulty in holding their muskets, whereas they now cannot complain of the cold being in any degree unpleasant.” So if we are to believe the author, an interesting question to ask would be about what happened between 1848 and 1868 that the city became warmer?

The last report on Bangalore’s climate I read was an article titled ‘Boogie woogie in Bangalore’ by one St. Clair McKelway published in the popular American magazine New Yorker in the year 1943, a good century after the previous one.

The author seems to be an American pilot, who flew down to Bangalore to get his aircraft serviced, at the then Hindustan Aircraft Corporation, which during that time was apparently taken over by the US Airforce for the overhauling and maintenance of the allied aircraft.

Talking about the weather, the author goes on to say, “The air is so cool in Bangalore that, when you get to your hotel, you get out your wools. You didn’t believe the stories about wearing wools in Bangalore, but you brought them along just in case.”

(Published 28 November 2011, 12:20 IST)

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