100 Year of Mohan
BENGALURU: On Old Taluk Cacheri Road, a centenarian building called ‘Mohan’ hunches between newer saree and jewellery showrooms. The building dates back to 1909, a few years after the city got electricity. It was a tumultuous time for the nation – a year after the Tinnevely riots in Tirunelveli and Great Musi floods in Hyderabad that killed nearly 50,000 people.
The 106-year-old building was built by a Muslim businessman called Hajee Ismail Sait. The two-storey building was a residence for the Saits until 1945. The building has seen many avatars – from a residential place, it was transformed into a commercial hub. Known as Ahmed building during the Saits' time, the name of the building also changed when the ownership was taken over by the Kapoor family from Mumbai. Nandanlal Kapoor named the building after his brother Mohanlal Kapoor, hence Mohan.
The first floor, which once used to be a lodge and a court hall, now lies abandoned. “There used to be a court here. The floor was later turned into a lodge. That is why the road is also named Old Taluk Cacheri Road,” says Ganesh of Sri Kanagambal Textiles, a 65-year-old business. But there is no substantial evidence the court left.
If you go upstairs, you see the small cubicles that were used as rooms to be let out, when the floor was a lodge. The visitors would stay there from a few days to years. There are also records of an Anglo Indian woman who lived at the Bombay Anand Bhavan Hotel on the first floor of the building for 20 years. The curt instruction to ‘pay the rent on time’ still stands. In the early twentieth century, it was home to many with rooms that lead to others, winding corridors, common toilets and bathrooms.
The architecture is striking, reminiscent of colonial architecture with its classic gabled roof, railings with floral motifs with Western and Arabic influences, ornamented eaves and a courtyard.
The ground floor of the building is predominantly occupied by the Tamils for their handloom businesses. They were probably the first to occupy the place. But later few Marwari people also started running their businesses here. “There are about 45 shops in the building at present,” states Ganesh. Though partially wrecked and dilapidated, he believes that the building can still stand strong for 100 more years if maintained properly.
The building was mortgaged to the Income Tax department in 1979. It was left unattended during the period. After a couple of years, Rajesh Traders got ownership of the building at a public auction. It has been around a decade since then and the fate of Mohan buildings is uncertain.
This area is the centre of the wholesale business. The now bustling Chickpet developed from Mohan building, says C Rajesh, K Ramalinga Mudaliar & Sons which is running its business since the 1950s. All the shopkeepers here are ready to take charge of this building and maintain it so that they can run their businesses without any hassles. They had filed a case against the current owner, Rajesh Exports, and many of them lost the legal battle. “There are around seven shops still fighting the case. So, we have some time before we vacate. All the shopkeepers share the same fate,” says Rajesh.
N K Muthukomara Mudaliar & Sons have been running their business for the past 85 years here. Tangavelu, the third heir of the four-generation-old family business, wishes to retire in the same building if he could get five to six years more. He said, “There are high chances for the demolition of the building. The owner has said that we can occupy the space in the new complex that they are planning to build and they would sell to us at a low rate.
He has just said them in words, not in writing. So we are not sure of what is going to happen.”
Champaraj Jain of Mahalakshmi Cotton Club learned about the court cases and fate of the building after he bought the space two years ago.
He says that he would stay as long as the legal procedure goes on, which is estimated to go on for an year or two, and would later shift to a new place.
A group of professionals interested in art, the Klatsch collective, organised an interactive session recently to tell the story of Mohan Buildings. “The building was forgotten in the busy streets of Chickpet.
One of our members was shopping in the area and noticed the building. Its story is intertwined with the development of Chickpet and also Bengaluru,” says Aravind, a member of Klatsch Collective.
Mohan Buildings has now become a friend to this group who think that it should be developed as an art centre as there is enough space to have studios, performances or a recreational hub for the businessmen running their shops on the ground floor.
A lodge that was once a home for many
On the first floor a few small cubicles can be seen. Those were used as rooms by visitors at Bombay Anand Bhavan Hotel. The visitors would stay there from a few days to years. There are also records of an Anglo Indian woman who lived in the building for 20 years.
When mohan was in trouble
The building was mortgaged to the Income Tax department in 1979. It was left unattended during the period. After a couple of years, Rajesh Traders got the ownership of the building at a public auction.