Founded by the chieftain Kempe Gowda around 1537, the story of Bangalore has no grand linear
narrative. The location has revealed different facets to settlers and passers-through. Facets to settlers
and passers-through. The city, the site of bloody battles between the British and Tipu Sultan, was
once attached to the glittering court of Mysore. Later, it became a cantonment town where British
troops were stationed. Over time, it morphed into a city of gardens and lakes, and the capital of
Indian scientific research. More recently, it has been the hub of India’s information technology boom,
giving rise to Brand Bangalore, an Indian city whose name is recognized globally. Now, people from
every conrner of India and beyond call it home.
In this collection of writings about a multi-layered city, there are stories from its history,
translations from Kannada literature, personal responses to the city’s mindscape, portraits of special’
citizens, accounts of searches for lost communities and traditions among much more. U.R.
Ananthamurthy writes about Bangalore’s Kannada identity; Shashi Deshpande maps the city through
the places she has lived in since she was a young girl; Anita Nair draws a touching portrait of a florist
who celebrates the glories of the Raj; Ramachandra Guha describes his close bound with
Bangalore’s most unusual bookseller; and Rajmohan Gandhi recounts the Mahatma’s trysts with the
From traditional folk ballads to a nursery rhyme about Bangalore, from poems to blogs,
from reproductions of turn of the twentieth century picture postcards to cartoons, Multiple City is the
portrait of a metropolis trying to retain its roots as it hurtles into the future.
Aditi De is Bengali by birth, south Indian by choice, and has been a Bangalorean since
May 1992. An independent writer, columnist and editor, she loves exploring new terrain in terms of
people and geographies, both in real time and virtually. As a journalist, she edited the Sunday
Herald, Articulations and Open Sesame supplements at Deccan Herald. She has also worked for the
Indian Express and launched the popular children’s magazine Junior Quest for the Chandamama
group in February 1989. Her books include Articulations: Voices from Contemporary Indian Visual
Art (Rupa & Co., 2004) and A Twist in the Tale: More Indian Folktales (Puffin India, 2005). She is
the co-author of Lines from an Artistic Life: The Drawings of Adimoolam (Mapin/Lund Humphries,
2007), Manu Parekh: Eternity Watches Time (Mapin/Lund Humphries, 2007) and Rustic Ragas:
Inner Melodies of Thota Vaikuntam (Timeless Books/AbMaa Publishing, 2008).
IT'S a windy May morning in the year 2007. About 7.15 a.m. I'm helmeted, strapped into the
passenger seat of a motorized hang-glider. At the helm is a veteran naval officer with a passion for
the air sport. The glider, 1000 feet above the city that I’ve called home since May 1992, soars
skywards from Jakkur, then banks, glides and, as I seem to suspend my breath for an incredible
fifteen minutes, offers me an alternative lens through which to view Bangalore or Bengaluru. Or is that
a mythical landscape that unfolds below us?
I’m conscious that I have no parachute on board, nor the shell of a cabin to cushion me from the
breeze that had the windsock at the airfield jigging furiously since dawn. The chill morning air nips at
my ear lobes, teases my bare toes. Wonder surges through me as I consciously shift gears
mentally-—and jettison inherited or collective notions about the city we hover over.
I gaze upon sheets of pristine water. Is that Hebbal lake? Verdant stretches, seemingly unpopulated,
cross, twist and zigzag on terra firma. Is that the Life Insurance Corporation building on arterial
Mahatma Gandhi Road, and the new United Breweries tower on Vittal Mallya Road? Impeccable
toy-sized houses swing into sight, as if conjured up from a Lego kit, with dinky red, yellow and blue
cars arrayed in open garages. The scene unfolding below has the unlived- in openness of a Google
I mull over the past years of searching for our city through writings on it. My journey has unfolded
through stop—start scenes where live stumbled upon facts and features, characters and cartoons,
even alternate or divisive perspectives, in lieu of a grand, linear narrative. I’ve sensed unidentified
shadows through multiple conversations, had chance encounters both literary and political, gauged
readings over steaming by-two cups at the India Coffee House, even entered high—voltage debates
about the interior landscapes of gays and bijras. I’ve listened to the narratives of- Generation Next
and tuned in to their grandparents, ajja-ajji stories over set dosas at stand—and—eat darshinis,
often buoyed by excursions into the Kannada literary landscape with practitioners and
What layered identities exist, or once flourished, within this emerging global city? What schismatic
tugs of war rage between Bengaluru and Bangalore, between the western pete that can be traced
back at least five centuries and the eastern Cantonment, at least three centuries younger, between the
City and the Civil and Military Station, the native and the colonial, as the Mysore PBM and the silk
roomal from northern Karnataka come to terms with the Gandhi cap? Did the traditions of- stately
Mysore vanish when the City and the Cantonment were united under a single municipal
administration in 1949? Is the cosmopolitan nature of-Bangalore, then, a stumbling block to defining
its identity? Has the It-propelled new city taken the shine off- its established public sector
undertakings, its famed silk looms? Will the city on fast—forward mode towards the future spell its
doom, especially since its population has boomed from 1.5 to nearly seven million in barely three
As I fly over these warring entities, deep—seated flickers of? unknowing flutter within me, along with
unrequited curiosity, and yet a sense of belonging. This is a city, or multiple cities within, that has
enfolded me and drawn me in, oddball that I am, Bengali by birth and south Indian by choice. Is this
the terrain of the four boundary mantapas or towers that the Yelahanka nudaprabhu or chieftain
Kempe Gowda is said to have founded around 1537, celebrated in folk ballad and contemporary
narratives alike? Why did he choose the village of Sivanasamudram, ten miles to the south of
Yelahanka, to build his mud fort in? Did the city derive its name from the meal of- boiled beans or
bendakalu that an old woman shared with him?
Every city dweller I interact with seems to espouse a private vision of Bangalore. I stumble upon
hidden stories retold in whispers, threadbare yet convergent narratives. Of a memorial to a ninth
century hero commemorated during an ancient Battle of Bengaluru. Of megalithic tombs and iron
tools dating back to 1000 BC, besides records of Roman silver coins that hark back to the emperor
Augustus. Of a tutelary deity named Annamma, whose temple borders the Dharmambudhi tank. Of a
Jewish settlement that gave rise to Asian’s biggest shoe store of the early twentieth century. Of a city
that had access to electricity before the rest of- Asia. Of the base where India’s first indigenous
helicopter was developed, and where the Bangalore torpedo was devised by British Captain
McClintock of: the Bengal, Bombay and Madras Sappers in 1912.
When the British defeated Tipu Sultan of: Mysore in the Battle of. Bangalore in 1791, the rural
aspect of the location was its defining Feature. It was a location defined by its keres or tanks. That’s
besides its large temple complexes, its agraharas or Brahmin settlements. In the twenty-first century,
the technopole represents the city as much as the annual Karaga rites at the Dharmaraya temple in
the old city.
Jeans pants on the outside and madi panche on the inside,’ wrote Bargur Ramachandrappa, former
chairman of the Kannada Development Authority, describing the reluctant metropolis. Is the Mysore
state emblem of the two—headed Gandaberunda bird, then, an apt representation of the city is state
of- mind, straddling the puranas and technological advances with equal felicity?
Even as I juggle these notions, I carry memories of other cities, Other homes, within me. Of: the
quintessential Tamil culture that enriches Chennai/Madras, where silk-draped mamis in Hakoba
blouses and rubber slippers critique a Carnatic music concert with as much Panache as they weigh
up Thiruvalluvar against Shakespeare. Of the jostling mass of Mumbai/Bombay, with its folk-rich
Ganesh Chaturthi End equally fervent Bollywood worship, its capacity to make outsiders feel at
home despite the ebb and flow of- a city constantly on the move to wherever. Of eating rich shabi
tukrao and biryani that the palate still lusts for at intimate chowkis at the Qutb Shahi tombs, or
bargaining for mirror-studded Ladla Bazaar bangles in the bustling Charminar at Hyderabad. Of the
beat of the dhaak and the sensuous, swirling aroma of- dbuno as the priest calls the deity into public
consciousness at the annual conclave that is Durga Puja in quintessential Kolkata/Calcutta.
How does Bangalore fit into this framework that defines a city for me? It seems to engage with its
past with insouciance, within a continuum where the past, the present and the future collide every
milli-moment. Its streets voice their cosmopolitan culture and urban angst as much in Kannada as in
Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam or English. Bangalore does not offer outsiders a pageant of
archaeological monuments; instead, in the words of a wag, it has just ‘two rambling gardens and a
crumbling palace’. It is as much at ease with the masala dosa of Vidyarthi Bhavan as with the stiff
upper lip colonial traditions of the Bangalore Club, or the shining new towers and gated communities
of IT—based international commerce.
I try to touch base with the essential Bangalore/Bengaluru. But for every home truth that stands its
ground, I chance upon a contradiction that seems equally valid. Questions jostle with answers in
uneasy I combat. What makes Bangalore pulse with life? Could it be the yoking of the local and the
global, the contradictory aspirations of a wannabe Singapore, as media debates would have us
Fifteen years ago, my friends from Chennai, New Delhi or Jaipur and I would often lie back on the
grass in a secluded patch of Cubbon Park and ask the lazy, wandering weekend clouds in the blue
sky overhead: What defines this city? Where is it going? Where is the Garden City? The Pub City?
What makes this a resurgent hub of contemporary Indian art and dance today? What heaves through
the underbelly of Brand Bangalore? Will it explode when the past and present collide with the future?
Or will the laid-back nature of its citizens soothe ruffled feelings so that life flows on?
From the hang—glider, the numbing crush of traffic on roads gone berserk seems like science fiction.
Even the erasure of the pensioner’s paradise by realtors and mall maniacs appears unreal, however
temporarily. For the city I spy below is green, calm, an eminently desirable location, even a space of
infinite promise. Or what?
Of a home truth that I acknowledge as we ease into a gentle touchdown at Jakkur. An essence that
is celebrated in Bangalore or Bengaluru daily, through its myriad tongues, its multiple origins, the
cacophony of soundtracks within curvilinear recountings.
It is a truth that this anthology seeks to represent. Not within an encyclopaedic sweep or a
comprehensive, defining narrative. The multi- pronged gaze of the contributors trace the city, its
culture of confluences both real and surreal, whether viewed from terra firma or while airborne. As
flexi•—cities within the single location tumble into view, it would be impossible not to celebrate their
underlying spirit. A spirit that, to me, is best summed up in two words: Multiple City.
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