Looking beyond Vijayanagar’s GPS-friendly grids

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Bengaluru started its life as a well-planned city. After Kempegowda, who founded the city in 1537, entrusted bullocks to determine the length and breadth of the larger rectangle that would mark the limits of his new city, he meticulously planned smaller rectangles within the city, neatly dividing them between various trades and occupations.

There is also, of course, a parallel origin story for Bengaluru that starts two-and-a-half centuries later, when the British, bowled over by the weather, chose Bengaluru over Sira to establish their cantonment within the Mysuru kingdom here.

Today, a rather small percentage of Bengaluru’s population lives in the ‘pete’ (pronounced pay-tay) area that was Kempegowda’s original city or the cantonment that the British established. But this does not mean that the rest of Bengaluru lacks history, and this series is a small attempt to dig up and bring forth some nuggets from the history of localities in Bengaluru, which hardly ever get written about.

I grew up, and lived the majority of my life, in one such nondescript area — Vijayanagar. Despite being created as a planned layout in the 1950s, and in a location that is just half a dozen kilometres from the City railway station, it does not merit a single mention in the greatest book written about 20th Century Bengaluru, The Promise of the Metropolis by Janaki Nair. That is how nondescript it is.

The template used to plan Vijayanagar is one not too dissimilar from those of its contemporary ‘layouts’ such as Jayanagar or Rajajinagar. Vijayanagar consists of well-planned rectilinear GPS-friendly grids that lose shape only when they encounter villages that already existed. In the case of Vijayanagar, those villages were Hoshalli, Marenahalli, Timmenahalli, and Attiguppe. For the first many decades of Vijayanagar’s existence, these villages also in a sense marked the borders of the locality.

If you walk around the park-lined streets of Vijayanagar and survey the nameplates of many of the pretty independent houses here, you will soon notice two things. First, you will notice that there is a large proportion of surnames that belong to parts of the state that joined Mysuru (remember, we were not yet Karnataka then) after the linguistic redrawing of state borders in 1956. This is quite unlike the slightly older Jayanagar, where most of the old independent houses were likely owned by folks from Mysuru-Karnataka. Second, you will notice that a lot of these nameplates also state the occupations of their owners and, overwhelmingly, they seem to be retired government servants.

Clearly, the timing of Vijayanagar’s development around the formation of the linguistic state, and the convenient location of the layout from the government offices, meant that Vijayanagar was the top choice for people who moved in as government servants from Bombay-Karnataka, Hyderabad-Karnataka, and the coast. Of course, the presence of the PWD quarters, BHEL’s township and the smaller parcels of land that were developed by co-operative societies formed by employees of organisations such as the income tax department or the central excise department may have also had a significant role in making Vijayanagar attractive for government servants.

But for a glimpse of a more ancient way of life, quite far from the regimented existence of civil servants, go to the villages that Vijayanagar subsumed. For over a third of my time in Vijayanagar, I lived in Marenahalli. Here, the way of life is still centred around the graama devate (village goddess), in this case, a form of Ammanavaru (or Shakti) and on the days when the oorhabba or jaatre happens, and a ceremonial idol is taken around in procession to each end of the ancient village, is when you realise there are still some borders not defined by addresses that postmen respect.

(Thejaswi Udupa is a writer who thinks of Bengaluru as home and, naturally, has very strong opinions about its boundaries)

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