As you stroll down Cunningham Road, one of the favourite ‘hangout’ spots of Bangaloreans, you are greeted by chaat wallahs, eateries and the heady aroma of biriyani and tea from several popular outlets. While the road is reminiscent of old Bangalore, not many people are aware about its rich history.
Named after Francis Cunningham (1820 to 1872) who was an officer in the Madras Army, member of the Mysore Commission, and a literary editor; this road used to be a favourite of the British Raj.
Francis Cunningham was the son of poet Allan Cunningham and the younger brother of Joseph Davey and Alexander Cunningham, who also spent most of their working lives in India.
On his death anniversary, we take a walk down one of the busiest roads of Bangalore to find out how many know of its glorious past.
“Though I knew that the road was named by the British, I had no idea that it had such a deep history. I wish such things were made available for the public. Most of us don’t even know about our own history,” said Shailaja Sharma, who works at a company on Cunningham Road.
In his Army service, it was reported that Francis excelled as a field engineer, with Robert Sale at Jalalabad, during the 1st Afghan War. In 1850, he was posted to the Mysore Commission which had its headquarters at Bangalore. He also served as a deputy to Sir Mark Cubbon, the Chief Commissioner at Bangalore. Apart from playing a crucial role in developing the Lalbagh gardens, he also took active interest in building a bungalow called Balabrooie for Sir Mark Cubbon in Nandi Hills. However, with no documentation available, it is quite difficult to trace the actual history.
“This is a huge issue. We have no knowledge of our history whatsoever. How do you expect the public to know more about its own city, without any archival system? I have been in Bangalore for more than 35 years and, I can tell you with absolute certainty that Cunningham Road has become unrecognisable today. Back then, we had beautiful villas and lovely driveways that have now been replaced by commercial buildings and apartments. The younger generation don’t really know about the history of Cunningham Road or who it was named after. Such a shame,” said Linda Rao who takes care of a 150-year-old building on the road.
Apparently, post retirement, when Cubbon left Bangalore in 1861, Cunningham continued to stay and lobbied on behalf of Maharaja Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar III. He strongly felt that the Maharaj should be allowed to adopt a heir and that the kingdom should be restored to him. Being an effective writer, he succeeded in causing trouble for Lewin Bentham Bowring, the Chief Commissioner after Cubbon.
“It is sad to note the lack of education and growing ignorance of our history. I don’t think anyone remembers Cunningham anymore,” said Malini Gupta, a student.