Years ago, when the IT Park was in its pre-conception womb, Marathahalli defined Bangalore’s outermost boundary on its Eastern front. But Whitefield, that once green, picturesque, eminently liveable settlement of British vintage, was beyond the beyond.
It was where you went to get lost in nostalgia, before you returned at leisure to the city proper. Today, it is still a long way off the city centre, but you go there to stay there !
Bedecked in flashy steel and glass, nesting IT firms of global branding, the ITPL had turned its magnetic, techie charm on a thousand brains.
Landing dreamjobs, the young, both local and all-Indian, had turned Whitefield around. Then came the builders, stirring up the landscape with flashy apartments, fully-loaded gated community villas, glitzy malls... Suddenly, Whitefield was a city within a city, self-contained and visibly secure. It had hospitals and airconditioned Volvos, supermarkets and five-star hotels. And then, like most irritable guests, the problems surfaced !
Living spaces had sprung up in multi-storeyed facades, in close proximity to the IT firms. But so had the rentals. Unable to afford them so early in their careers, the young engineers chose to stay in cheaper locations deep in the city centre.
For them, road connectivity had to be good, transport reliability became supremely important. Eventually, frustration set in. Riding two hours daily to and fro Whitefield, young engineer Sundeep Juluri personified that angst.
“I travel 24 km up and down ITPL and Kasturinagar daily. Peak-hour traffic chokes every road leading to this area. People own two, three cars here. Forget car-pooling, they take the four-wheeler even for one-km drive.”
He had heard the promise of Namma Metro’s Phase-II connectivity to ITPL. “I am eagerly waiting for the Metro. But that will be years away, and the construction will mess up the roads further,” says Juluri, not sounding very positive. For the present, he wants the “very expensive” BMTC Volvo’s to make way for smaller, cheaper, more regular shuttle services. Reason: “In any case, these Volvo’s virtually run empty on weekends. Three smaller shuttle buses can easily replace one Volvo.”
Barely two kilometers away from the IT Park, the Whitefield Railway Station looked good enough for an easier rail link to the city. Yet, the trains that had a two-minute halt had no inch to spare. Maddeningly overcrowded, the trains cried for more frequencies.
But the green signal had to come from Delhi, distant and imperious.
The station master acknowledged the need for more trains, more stoppages, better facilities. “The ITPL employees had sent two memorandums seeking stoppages for the Lalbagh Express (passing at 7 am) and the Howrah Express.
They were forwarded to the headquarters,” informs the railway official. The station currently generates Rs. 2.5 lakh daily through reserved and unreserved ticket system. Besides the obvious benefit of boosting connectivity, additional trains and stoppages would increase this revenue by another 10 to 15 per cent.
Connecting to a green past:
The connectivity was beyond geography for Rameshwara SK, a 30-something farmer in Siddapura village on Whitefield’s periphery. It was about a link to a not-so-distant past, when agriculture ruled Whitefield’s lake-fed, fertile terrains. Braving a trend that had scores of farmers sell their lands cheap to builders, Rameshwara’s family had defiantly held on to their four-acres. Growing cauliflowers, carrots and beetroots, he and his folks had resisted an unceasing onslaught of development.
Tenacious and determined, Rameshwara reasons, “In Ramagondanahalli and Tubarahalli villages, 80 per cent of farmland has been sold to apartment builders. We haven’t done so, because the land prices will surely shoot up, even triple.” So, it was also about the money. “In 1992, many farmers sold their land for Rs 10 lakh per acre. By 2006, it had gone up to Rs. 40 lakh. Today, the going rate is about Rs. 2 crore an acre.”
Farmers who sold everything had moved out. While some had built a few houses and given them on rent, many had ended up as house-keeping staff in the IT firms. Some womenfolk even found jobs as domestic helps in the gated communities that had sprung up on land that were once theirs!
Living in the area since 1973, theatrepersons Jagdeesh and Arundhati Raja were part of the Whitefield transformation. Returning from England, they had settled down in Whitefield to run poultry farms for 10 years before their real calling surfaced with all its passion: Theatre. Recalls Arundhathi, “Whitefield then was just a settlement and many villages around. Then came ITPL which changed everything, the place, the people, even some of us old residents.”
Their change was dramatic, and staged to perfection for a cultural, performing space called Jagriti. Today, Jagriti tops Whitefield’s fledgling cultural landmark. “Theatre and performing arts buffs love this place for being so close. Besides the plays, we also host a lot of Indian and even some Western classical music. But there are many who still feel theatre is an intellectual pursuit,” notes Arundhathi.
So, does Whitefield’s IT crowd mix technology with theatre? That, she says, is still a long shot although a passion is slowly emerging. But the next generation could be different. Driving that change are Jagriti’s art workshops for the young ones. “Most parents are open to very different kinds of workshops that we do throughout the year. Majority of the children who attend these workshops are from this area.”
Communities, gated and secured
But, ensconsed in their secure, safe, self-contained gated communities, were the affluent Whitefielders missing the drama in real life? Not really, corrects Akshay Raj, a resident of the area’s first such gated facility. “The expats, who are mostly staying in these villas, don’t like to live in a bubble. They go out, interact with the locals, feel the culture outside,” explains Raj.
For Raj, though, it is bliss to get back to a relaxing place after a tiring, taxing drive from his office on Nandidurg road. He wouldn’t want to miss the club house, the tennis courts, the gyms and the pool. That holds good for Srilakshmi Singh too, a resident of Asset Gardenia enclave. “Yes, the facilities are good. But I don’t agree that we are not connected to the outside world. The residents do a lot of community service.
A lot of neighbouring schools have benefited from this. We also mingle with the locals. For instance, we were all there at the Ramagondanahalli fest the other day,” says Singh.
But Whitefield extends beyond these gated communities. It lives in its myriad apartment complexes, in the old settlements, in the bylanes, in the old but changing villages, in chic steel-and-glass silicon valleys... That is something this city within the city will never cease to be.