BENGALURU: Kamraj Road, off the busy Commercial Street, gives visitors a peak into what the city looked like before the rapid growth and urbanization that has transformed most central parts of the city.
The narrow road, which has in recent years also become victim to heavy traffic and congestion, houses some of the city’s oldest homes, some crossing a hundred years old.
Lovers of antique furniture and knick-knacks would’ve heard of Qurio City, a haven for those looking to fill their homes with vintage goodies. But a lesser known fact is that the house where this shop is – 101 Kamraj Road – about a hundred years old, and has seen five generations of a family that refuses to leave their ancestral home.
Only dry cleaning shop in Cantonment area
K Ramlingam rests on a diwan as we enter his house, surrounded by one of his four children, Balakrishna, and one of his many grandchildren, Lohit.“My grandfather built this house. He acquired the land in 1916, and the house, as it is today, was constructed in 1921. All my kids moved away, but I never wanted to leave this house,” says Ramlingam, adding how the area has changed so much over the years, the houses have been renovated or broken down, but his house remains exactly the same.
By now, all the neighbours have moved away, and many new buildings have emerged. “We thought of demolishing the house about fifteen years back, but due to some land acquisition problems, the plan was dropped,” says Balakrishna.
An old black-and-white photograph of the house from back in the day hangs on one of the walls, in which it looks the same, but not sandwiched between other homes.“This area was ideal for me, everything is in close proximity, so I settled quietly over here and didn’t ever feel the need to move,” says Ramlingam.The family was in the dry cleaning business until a few year back, and Ramlingam claims that they were the only ones to be in this business in the Cantonment Area. “This was a family of dhobis who worked on contract basis with the military. They stopped doing this line of work recently, as the younger generation isn’t interested to carry it on,” says SV Ramachandra, owner of Qurio City and a keeper of a bit of Bengaluru’s history.
Tank for army horses, live stock
Though Ramlingam wasn’t able to recall any fond memories or anecdotes from his childhood, he did mention the tap and tank outside his home, as these fixtures have been around since the British times.
“My grandfather had gotten a tap from London and kept it outside the house, along with two tanks. The cavalry would pass through this road to get to the grounds near MG Road. So the idea was to have a tank of water for the horses and bullock-drawn carts,” says Ramlingam.Now, one of the tanks, on which Ramlingam’s grandfather had his inscription, has been moved away. Only one remains, which still sees dogs and cows coming to quench their thirst.“I live in Indiranagar, but come here often because of the classic, old-world feel of the house. I meet my cousins up here, and the family gets together for festivals, birthdays and anniversaries,” says Lohit.
Kamraj Road known as Cavalry Road during Raj
City-based historian Arun Prasad sheds some light on Kamraj Road, which was earlier known as Cavalry Road, and held as much importance when the Britishers were here as South Parade Road (now called MG Road), East Parade Road, Brigade Road and Infantry Road. “The demography of this Cantonement area changed drastically with the opening of the Jolarpet Railway line in 1864, which connected Bengaluru to Madras. This resulted in an influx of Tamil migrants, who came themselves or were brought here by the British for domestic and administrative work,” he says, providing a historical basis to the dhobhi family business Ramlingam’s family was engaged in. The area was also home to some Jewish settlers. He adds that there are still some homes remaining here that follow the British style of architecture - red oxide walls, Teak wood doors and columns, and primarily single-storeyed buildings.
Communal harmony on Kamraj Road
Ramchandra, who has lived in this area his whole life, says that this is one area in the city where Muslim and Hindu populations live in perfect harmony. “During festivals of both cultures, both communities come together to celebrate. During Ganesh Chaturthi, Muslims hand out sweets to everyone. Even during the 1982 Hindu-Muslim clashes in the city, this area did not see any issues,” he says.