The story of cities in India is one of relentless growth and change but in Bengaluru, it is increasingly hard to talk about the city’s past except in terms of loss: the absence of the famed, moderate weather, erasing of iconic landmarks, the disappearing act of trees along once verdant roads and neighbourhoods.
The revival of the elevated corridor project has brought the question of embattled trees in the city to the fore again. Today, most people only have memories of the once abundant green cover.
When Apoorva Kunder (24), first moved to Rajarajeshwari Nagar in 2006, the place barely had any commercial establishments. “It was lush green. But now, the entire stretch from R R temple to BEML is lined with massive buildings,” she says. She feels like R R Nagar has not faced the full brunt of development, unlike the rest of Bengaluru.
A 59-year old resident in Koramangala, who only identified himself as Gandhi, remembers a time when trees were present throughout the area.“This entire stretch, from 1st block to the Shiva theatre (in 7th block) used to be filled with trees.. Ejipura was full of coconut trees… there were no houses at all”
Sakkubai, a resident of Malleshwaram, has seen the city denuded of trees first-hand. Her work as a health assistant took her to PHCs all around the city. After she retired, Sakkubai is just glad she settled down in Malleshwaram. “I think it is better than the rest of Bangalore. Things are still peaceful around here,” she says.
Sudhakar S, who currently runs a bakery in Koramangala and has called the city home for the past 20 years, has seen the trees disappearing as well. “I saw the trees cut down near St. Johns and other areas in Koramangala, when they were building the flyover,” he says.
For Imran, a native of Bengaluru who grew up near K R Puram, the loss has been more personal. “From tin-factory onwards, towards ITI Gate, there were so many trees. All of them have been cut down,” he says.
Imran particularly rues the loss of public spaces and gardens, where families could relax in the evenings. “I remember, in Hoskote, there was a park right near the stadium. They razed all the trees there to the ground.”
Not everything is bleak. Lydia Thomas has been living in the city for the past 13 years. She stayed in Bellandur before moving to a gated community in Hebbagodi near Electronic city, some ten years ago.
“Where I stay now, the residents have made efforts to plant trees. It is a lot greener, a lot quieter. There is a lot more shade around the house now than when I first moved here,” she says.
Even with small signs of hope, it feels like the loss of the city’s green past is irrevocable.
One telling example: the Netflix indie comedy Brahman Naman, a movie set in 1980s Bengaluru, was entirely shot in Mysuru because the quaint, leafy neighbourhoods required for certain scenes simply didn’t exist in the city anymore.
“You know, we used to go walking on Jayamahal road. There was a particular flowering tree on that stretch that just made your heart glad to look at it. On Brigade road, I remember there was a green canopy; a lot of Anglo-Indians … with big bungalows. All of them have vanished. The trees and the bungalows. They sold everything,” Gandhi says, of the Bengaluru he remembers.
With each passing year, when people speak of a canopy of trees and the dappled shade in their neighbourhoods, it feels like they are evoking a near-mythical past. It would be unfortunate if the very real, once-green past of Bengaluru is relegated to the realm of fantasy.