The vendors of Russel Market are holding on to the historical construction with all they have got.
While authorities had proposed to pull the building down, following the fire of 2012, its occupants wish to keep the market standing the next 13 years so that it attains the status of a monument. Russel Market’s history dates back to 1927. It was built by the British and inaugurated in 1933 by Muslim community leader Ismail Sait. Though the city has developed by leaps and bounds since the time of its inception, there are structures in the market that date back to the beginning of the 20th century that have stood the test of time.
The market area is said to be cooler by two degrees than other parts of the city. The secret lies in Chowk Bowdi, a water source that runs beneath the market. The well that is about a century old is believed to have quenched the thirst of the people of the eastern parts of the city and the Cantonment region.
Chowk Bowdi, known as the well of fortune, has now been reduced to a small opening in the ground opposite Russel Market. Water from it is used to clean vehicles and utensils by nearby eateries. Even with the water table dipping in other parts of the city like Hennur, KR Puram and Mahadevapura, this well is still alive. However, due to official apathy, filth and garbage surround the 150-ft-deep water body.
When a fire broke out in the market in February 2012, reducing 126 shops to ashes, the emergency personnel drew water from Chowk Bowdi to douse the flames. The water level in the well did not deplete despite water being pumped out of it for over five hours.
Zohrabi, an 86-year-old banana seller, says she was among the porters given a licence by the British Raj to sell goods at the market. “The well of fortune was built by Hyder Ali for his soldiers. Later, the Britishers connected it to wells like Chaudry Bowdi and Rabu Bowdi (about half a kilometre away) using tunnels. Many wells in the region have disappeared. Only Chowk Bowdi has survived. We must preserve it.”
Jamshed Pehalwan, a Shivajinagar resident, says, “My ancestors were part of the freedom struggle. I remember my grandfather telling me that soldiers with their weapons and ammunition used to hide in the wells and later escape through the tunnels.”
Syed Akbar, an auto driver from Broadway Road, recalls, “Many people used to practise black magic and dump coconut shells, eggs, bangles and other things into Rabu Bowdi. That is why the well lost its sanctity and now a post office is built on it.”
Water from Chowk Bowdi is still clean and refreshing. The huge mesh at a depth was probably placed by the British to keep people from jumping in.
Another landmark building is Picture House on Broadway Road. Now a photo studio, it was once a hub for moviegoers as films used to be projected here. The studio was started by Akbar Sharieff in 1955 and this was the only studio in Shivajinagar that got a licence from Kodak Films. “My grandfather and later, my father handled photography for weddings and other functions. In honour of their memory, I have kept the old cameras and also decided against razing the building.”
Symbol of communal harmony
St Mary’s Basilica, built by Tamil Christian immigrants from Gingee in the 17th century, is located a short distance away from Russel Market. The church, located in the middle of Shivajinagar, a Muslim-dominated area, is also called Kaanike Mathe Devalaya (The Church of Our Lady of the Presentation).
The building was torn down during the communal riots of 1832, and army troops had to be called in to protect the settlement for many months.
“After this incident, plague hit Bengaluru and many left the city fearing death. At that time, Muslims also took part in the chariot procession taken out by the church as repentance. The Hindus built a temple -- whose deity is called ‘Plague Mariamma’ to this day -- as they believed all gods are one and only their divine intervention can save the humans from the deadly disease,” says Brother Nijavantha Raj from St Mary’s Basilica.
Haji Baba Pan Beeda
The shop is 110 years old and used to serve pans to British soldiers and political leaders.
Basheer Ahmed, the third generation owner of the shop, says, “Employees of Madras Engineering Group, soldiers, political leaders Roshan Baig, Qamrul Islam and others were regulars at the shop once upon a time.”