Chamarajpet at 125

Apparently, it would be 125 years since Chamarajpet was carved out from the “outskirts” of the petes, in 1892. I find it odd because the St. Joseph’s Church, right at the border of Chamarajpet has been standing for more than 150 years. But then that would’ve served the Cottonpet, Akkipet and Chikpet areas. Chamarajpet would’ve come up later – a perfect rectangle of 5 main roads and 9 cross roads, with a conservancy lane stretching between each main road for all the 9 roads. Each plot of land extending from the main road to the conservancy lane. Long and winded plots, with one house for the landlord and surrounded by tenants living in one bedroom houses.

But how do you make sense of History for an area? Can you look back that long and see all that has remained? Or do you make sense of the change that has happened and measure all that has been lost? It would be like a big old house – some additions made, some old parts destroyed, but mostly an overwriting of memories. Would those who live there know about those who lived earlier, 50 years back? Would it even be the same family?

Can the history of an area be the sum of all personal histories of people who lived there, who grew up there?

Can it include the history of my Ammammai, my late grandmother, who moved there after her wedding, taught in the Model school on 4th Main road, near Makkala Koota, and raised a family by 1st Main Road? A span of 35 years spent across different parts of the same locality, but teaching there. Her career summed up for us in the form of middle-aged or even young shopkeepers in the area, like the vegetable vendor where 4th Main Road meets 3rd Cross, like the Watch repairer nearby (still standing), who’d come down from their shops to greet their old teacher. What would her landmarks have been as she made her way from school to home every evening? What route would she have taken? A stop by 3rd Cross for some veggies for the evening? And most likely walking with her colleagues and taking the path that would get her more time with company.

Will it have space for the history of my Mother, knowing Chamarajpet as an infant, leaving it in her 40s? Living in different parts, but coming back to the same vataara where she spent her childhood, being amidst all those neighbours that she grew up with. A time when people rarely moved houses. She grew up speaking 3 languages, that of her home(Tamil), that of the city(Kannada) and that of the neighbours(Telugu). The neighbours knew three languages too. A time when people could pick up languages and converse in multiple ones at ease.

I think of her childhood, studying in St. Theresa’s where her sister and a niece also studied. The same school for 12 years, from KG to SSLC. And then a job across the street in St. Joseph’s, where her two brothers, two sons, and a nephew studied. Where old timers would see your face and ask if you were her son and fondly remember your brother, and cousin. People rarely changed jobs.

Can it make some space for my Father’s and his family’s histories? Of moving from Coimbatore, beaten in their family business, trying to land a new life. They moved, one by one, in the late 60s, setting up space in Kumara park, before landing in Raghavendra Colony, one house for 9 siblings and their parents, before the brothers started moving out after their weddings, most to other parts of Chamarajpet. They found jobs, one by one, through people they knew, in the same companies or sister concerns. Jobs they held onto until retirement. Chamarajpet gave them the life they sought to rebuild.

Can I rent some space for mine and my brother’s histories? Of being born in Jubilee Nursing Home, where 4th Main road ends near Makkala Koota. Of growing up in 1st Main road, in a small house with rats and scorpions, where 3rd Cross starts, eventually becoming Bull Temple Road. And then moving to the same vataara where our mother grew up, where we grew up with sparrows, mynahs and squirrels in a large compound under the shade of a Sampige tree.

“How old was that tree?” I ask my Mother.
“I don’t remember. It was big when I was a child.”
“How old is this house?”
“Around 80-100 years old” she guessed. It was old, with tall ceilings, rough tiles. One room seemed to have been recently added. It had a polished red oxide floor.

What were my landmarks? Those tall Rain trees on the road from Cottonpet to Royan Circle, that tiny shop where the opening was below the desk, Janata Canteen where you could have some water on hot days, the entrance to Tippu nagar, that dry cleaning shop near the bus stop shaded by Rain trees. The empty walk up to the road with IFFCO on the right, some old houses including a friend’s on the way. And then home.

Manjunatha book store for books, Bata showroom for shoes (still there), Dr. Devraj for the dentist, Chamundeswari for coffee powder at a corner where the coffee smells mixed with those from Karnataka Bhel House, from the yellow lemons from the roadside vendor, and from the flowers from the flower vendors. And the mild stink from the open air toilet across the road.

***

Chamarajpet has seen much change in the last 3 decades. Bigger houses have been pulled down and apartment complexes have sprung up. Some others have turned commercial. The old house where TCM Royan lived, giving his name to the circle there, marking one corner of Chamarajpet, now houses a Maternity Centre, but stands intact. Many houses still do, they turn up unexpectedly, reminding you of a much earlier era. You wonder who lives there, and how many generations have lived there. Most landmarks are gone. Houses where friends lived, friends of my brother, or cousins, or even my mother’s classmates, or in one case a brother’s classmate who’s mother was my mother’s classmate. I see those corners, and remember the layout. Now it’s hard to guess whether it’s that house or the one next door.

The commercial ones still stand, some have flourished. Karnataka Bhel house has a new, fancier location, but doesn’t fail to remind you that it has been around ‘since 1975’. Vadiraja has a new bigger building. The post office has moved. Bata showroom now serves the 4th or 5th generation since its opening. Dr. Nagarathna’s clinic still stands on 4th Main Road and is much is demand. BSVP still operates a Sanskrit School. Rashtrothana Parishad, Kannada Sahitya Parishath, Sanskrit Colleges still border Chamarajpet.

But it just isn’t the same. The roads feel narrower, parked cars take up 2 lanes of the once wide roads. The once wide footpaths now serve as parking spaces. Apartments mean that you no longer see so many people sitting outside their houses or standing by gates watching the world go by, and greeting passing acquaintances.

More importantly, there’s no one left. Everyone moved to newer areas – JP Nagar, Nagarabhavi, Girinagar.  The vataara we lived in is no longer there. The 100 year old sampige tree was chopped down. Along with 4 coconut trees, one mango tree and a Parjitha tree. The whole area was cleared to make way for a gigantic Marriage Hall, which fell into disuse and is now a godown.

When Chamarajpet turned 100 years, we were all there, the family, friends, all those classmates. 99 happened, 100 came, and 101 happened. No one gave a thought. And that was a Chamarajpet that knew what it had been for 100 years, that knew the families that lived there, and remembered the elders as children playing on its streets. It knew their parents and grandparents who had passed on. You were born, you grew up, you lived and you died in Chamarajpet.

How much does it know of the last 25 years? Is there anything left for it to remember at all?

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