This article was written by L. Romal M. Singh and reprinted, with permission, from Bangalore’s Daily News & Analysis’ You & I column. Mahesh Bhat, a photographer based in Bangalore made this republication possible. He is the co-author of Unsung, his first book. Read more about that book here.
“Two Names, One Soul”
It was this quote that inspired seasoned photographer Mahesh Bhat to look at Bangalore from the perspective of an outsider — an identity Mahesh Bhat gave up almost 20 years ago. “Bangalore is now home to me, but that wasn’t always the case. I grew up in Mangalore but moved here when I was quite young and now the city is home,” enthuses Mahesh, as we sit across a table at Koshy’s.
Koshy’s, so much a part of ‘identity’ Bangalore, does feature in the book that it brought about this meeting, and like many other Bangalore mainstays, the book inspires, records and chronicles a face of Bangalore that’s ever changing, but wonderfully constant.
“I was quite clear about what I wanted from this book — it took me four years to get down to finally putting it together and so I had enough time to ideate. I knew I wanted this book to be about transition — not about famous people and landmarks. Bangalore has always been about multiple identities, it really never has been the same city for any two people,” Mahesh tells us.
Bangalore has indeed been a city of many changes and the city has meant many things to different people, across the 900 years or so of the existence of this city. The powers have changed with almost each century, but the heart and soul of the city largely have remained intact. Bengaluru/Bangalore — in first person singular opens to a wonderful image of the Basavanagudi Bull Temple — an image that quite wonderfully captures the timelessness of this Bangalore.
“I began the journey for this book at Kalasipalya and then meandered through what remains of the pété, before the book halts temporarily at the Cantonment and all that it stands for — the Raj legacy included, before I finally make my way back to the layouts and newer areas that are now as intrinsically Bangalorean as Brigade Road,” shares Mahesh. As said, the book does journey through Bangalore in all its elements, giving you a fair picture of what the city was, is and is probably moving towards — all in one linear movement that personifies an energy now quintessentially known as Bangalore. One of the first images in the book is that of the Infosys pyramid, juxtaposed with slum-dwellings in Electronics City. The picture hits hard and quite succinctly portrays the economic divide in modern Bangalore.
“Bangalore changed after we became an IT city. We lost focus and wanted to be the next Singapore or Beijing. Change is important and inevitable, and don’t get me wrong, I am waiting for the metro as much as any other enthusiastic Bangalorean — but I am worried about the attitude behind this change. A city should be creative class friendly. It shouldn’t be about building infrastructure and then waiting for development — this should be a hand-in-hand process,” says Mahesh, quoting Richard Florida’s theory.[blogshow id=9ca9 player=1 autoplay=0 toolbar=1]
Bangalore has indeed evolved in more ways than one and it often is the easiest option to just sit back and complain about how these changes are turning Bangalore for the worse. Mahesh however prefers to be more far-sighted in his opinion.
Quoting Narender Pani from his essay, Imaginations of Bengaluru, Mahesh says, “the dominant economic class has always decided what Bangalore will mean to the world and for some reason they have always done away with every trace of the city’s previous leaders. For example, the IT industry is now converting the city into India’s Silicon Valley, removing with it every trace of the city’s colonial past,while just before that the British did the same, by replacing every presence of the pété; with a larger-than-life Cantonment. It’s just how Bangalore functions and it may or may not be a great idea.”
Theme, ideas and motivation in place, we finally move on to parts of the making of this book that Mahesh fondly remembers. “It’s hard for me to decide. Each picture speaks so much to me and is equally precious, but if I had to choose, since you force me to, I would choose the picture of the Karaga festival. The festival is older than Bangalore in many ways and brilliantly captures the spirit of the people who call this city home. Imagine — a Hindu festival with a Telugu lineage, being celebrated by Tamils in a Kannadiga locality where the idols are placed in a dargah as a part of a great custom, proving that communities and religions can co-exist, live in peace and love one another.
I think that if there’s a definitive picture in the collection, it’s definitely this one,” Mahesh concludes.
Impressed and highly entertained, I take leave and rush back to my office where I take my time in absorbing each of these images — some strike a chord, some inform and some just bring the most genuine smile to my face. Bangalore is as much my city, as it is yours and if Bangalore was a song and the lyrics were the ages the city has seen— this book, quite incomparably, is the tune the city has been searching for all these years. P.S. And just in case, you are still looking for an answer to that question asked at the very beginning — read this book and wait for your eureka moment.