Bicycles, ‘tongas’ and many more memories

My visit to Bengaluru this time was special for many reasons. While my sister came for her class reunion, I came here to be a part of the centenary celebration of St Joseph’s Old Boys Association.

However, we both decided to explore the city a bit more, considering most parts of our childhood were spent here. Bengaluru is also the place where our father, Mahijit Singh Bhagar met and married our mother, Lillian Gladys Shannahan,who was from an Irish-English family settled in Bengaluru. 

Rewinding to a few decades, my grandfather, Amar Singh Bhagar, went to China sometime in the early 1900s from Kolkata. He lived on a riverboat in Shanghai and used to dress up in western style. That’s when he met my grandmother, who was Chinese. He was very keen on her but since she was too young, they didn’t get married. After trouble began brewing in China, my grandfather was deported to India. That time he lived in Noushera. Eventually, they got married after a few years.

My grandfather already had three children back in Shanghai, he had another three children from my grandmother.

My father, after completing his schooling went to the then Panjab University and was a Science graduate. He was in his early 20s when he got recruited into the Indian Air Force. He was stationed at Jalahalli as a young flight officer and my mother lived in Curley Street. That’s how both of them met. Her father was a retired official of GIP (Great Indian Peninsular Railway).


James M Bhagar was presented
a plaque by the Royal Indian Air Force.

Our mother worked in HAL for a Canadian company called Canadian Vickers, from Montreal, who was building the 'Trisonic Windtunei' in HAL to test the HF24. She was passionate about hockey and one day when she was playing the sport my father went to watch the match. He saw her and gradually both fell in love. Although he was a Punjabi and she was a Roman Catholic, they decided to get married. My mother was 18 and my father was 26 at the time of their marriage on June 1, 1949. However, at some point, he converted to Catholicism, thus changed his name to James Michael Bhagar, and we were raised as Catholics. His decision to convert was his own and he wasn’t forced.

When he joined the Indian Air Force, it was called the Royal Indian Air Force. My elder brother, Jeffery, was born in 1950 in Bengaluru. Those days, whenever an officer had their first son, a silver spoon with the emblem of the Royal Indian Air Force was given to the particular officer. Since he was in the armed force, he was always moving from one place to the other. That’s how my sister Cherryl was born in 1953 in Secunderabad and I was born in 1954 in Agra. 


Lillian and James Michael Bhagar.

For a brief period, my father was posted in Iraq but when the Sino-Indian War broke out in 1962, all the armed forces serving in Iraq were called back to India. He was again posted to Bengaluru. Since he was unclear where his next posting will be, we were put into boarding school. My sister was in Sacred Hearts Girls High School, my brother and I were in St Joseph’s Boys High School.

My father was given a task to establish an airport training facility then and that’s how he started the one in Yalahanka. He was a chief instructor pilot basically flying DC3. By then, it was confirmed that he was going to stay in the city and we became day students. We lived just off Lavelle Road. Later, we moved to Jayamahal Road Extension and then Kasturba Road Cross. 

We stayed in Bengaluru from 1963-68. Our father retired in 1966. After his retirement he got a job with Kalinga Airlines in New Delhi, so four of us moved to Delhi in 1968 and went to Frank Anthony Public School there and by September 1969 we moved to Canada.

I still remember, when we came back from Iraq, we got with us German-made bicycles, the ones that didn’t have handbrakes. We were the first ones to get those cycles in Bengaluru. It was so cool because one had to pedal backward to brake.

Bengaluru those days was a quiet place, with very few vehicles on the roads. The rustic old charm of horse ‘tongas’, rickshaws and bicycles still linger in my mind. Bangalore Club, Catholic and Bowring clubs were our favourite hangout places back then. We were always into some kind of sports, be it squash, badminton or swimming. Brigade Road and RSI were the other places we used to hang out at. I remember we used to shop at Russell Market, it was ‘the’ place for everything.

After we went to Canada, I finished High School, University and applied for Pharmacy School all across Canada and got into the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I went on to become a clinical hospital pharmacist and I retired five years ago. My sister got into a clothing Business and later became a correction officer, just by chance. A correction officer is a prison guard. My sister was always the adventurous one. We lost our elder brother to a congenital heart disease two years ago.

Growing up in an Air Force family was like living in a paradise. That life will not come back again, but like it’s said, change is the only constant. Fond memories are seared in my mind’s eye for this life and the next.

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Bicycles, ‘tongas’ and many more memories

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