Not Lalbagh, it's Roerich estate that cries for attention

Not Lalbagh, it's Roerich estate that cries for attention

Roerich’s Tataguni estate in Bangalore.

In the last few days, the peace at Hyder Ali’s grave would have been disturbed. The interred body of Hyder Ali — the visionary ruler of Mysore who conceptualised and founded the Lalbagh about 250 years ago — would have started turning in his grave after the planned ‘rape’ of his magnificent garden became public. But with the assurances from the chief minister, Hyder can rest in peace again. Hopefully, without any more jolts.

Bowing to the universal condemnation of the BJP government’s harebrained idea to convert the garden into an amusement park, chief minister B S Yeddyurappa has said that “we will not impose any decision on the people.” That is a big relief. But the caveats he has added to that statement leave room for suspicion that the ‘evil designs’ on Lalbagh have not been completely given up.

Firstly, his assertion that “we have not taken any decision” was misleading because after one whirlwind tour of Lalbagh with the officials in tow, his Cabinet gave, in less than 48 hours, its approval for the Rs 56-crore ‘beautification’ plan. This newspaper dug out the entire plan which included a musical fountain, a rock garden, a laser show, a food court and even ‘royal’ dust bins worth Rs 50,000 each. The officials confirmed the plan, but maintained that they were a set of tentative proposals.

But, after a public hue and cry, the government appears to have backtracked. Still, the chief minister’s open-ended statement that before arriving at a decision on Lalbagh, the government will advertise its plans and take the public into confidence, indicates that the danger to Lalbagh may not have passed.

The government should know that among the hundreds of letters that Deccan Herald received on the Lalbagh issue, not even one supported the government’s grandiose plans and they all wanted the botanical garden to be left alone. “Mr chief minister, keep your hands off the Lalbagh,” was the unanimous view. If the government wants to have an amusement park, look elsewhere, was the clear message.

Actually, the chief minister should not be faulted for his enthusiasm to beautify and enliven the capital city of Bangalore. After all, the IT industry has pitch-forked Bangalore into a ‘global city,’ and it certainly needs a face-lift to live up to its international image. Besides, the residents of the city themselves look for events and places where they can unwind with their friends and families.

If amusement for people is a priority for the chief minister, the government need not look beyond the now decrepit Palace Ground, which is spread over 400 acres in the heart of the city.

Private-public partnership

Instead of continuing with unending litigation over the ownership of land with the successors of the erstwhile Maharajas of Mysore, why can’t the government enter into a private-public partnership with former prince Srikantadatta Wodeyar and his sisters for development of an international standard amusement park at the Palace Ground? Together, they can even explore the possibility of bringing a Disneyland-like entertainment hub to Bangalore.

If the government gets out of his ‘bureaucratic mindset’ and agrees to work with Wodeyar, along with some foreign consultants, it can be a win-win situation for all, including the entertainment-starved people of Bangalore.

A second proposal worth looking into is to convert the Field Marshal Manekshaw memorial park on MG Road into something bigger and better. The disputed war memorial can ideally come up there, with a magnificent museum highlighting the achievements of the Indian armed forces, a gallery of busts of our great warriors, including those who fought in the World Wars and the heroes of India’s recent wars with its neighbours. The state government should impress upon the defence ministry the need for such a memorial in Bangalore.

A third proposal that should be given serious consideration is to develop Roerich’s estate on Kanakapura Road into showcasing of the great painter’s wonderful association with Bangalore as a world class museum of art. The sprawling estate is in government’s custody, but its sheer negligence in untangling the last remaining legal hurdles has meant that Roerich’s rich and invaluable legacy is being allowed go to seed.

Roerich’s internationally-acclaimed paintings are either dumped somewhere or given less than prominent display in one of the government galleries and in the absence of proper security, his estate is in danger of being either encroached upon or its properties looted.

All that it takes is seriousness of purpose on the part of the government to put Roerich’s estate in proper shape and throw it open for the public including tourists to visit and admire the lifetime work of a greater painter. That museum, set in verdant surroundings will be a jewel in Bangalore’s crown — provided we realise the value of the cultural and natural heritage that Karnataka is gifted with.

Are you listening, Mr chief minister?

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