Railways and the military: an evening spent in ToK

Sometime this afternoon, when both the wife and I figured it was impossible for us to nap, she said that she wanted to “go on a drive to a part of town she hasn’t seen”. After some thinking I said that we could go to the “cantonment area” or the “towns” (Frazer Town, Cox Town, etc.), which we knew are not too far off from town, but where we had hardly been to.

Sometime back I had tried to imagine “symmetries” around the centre of Bangalore, whatever that means. It had started when I wondered which other areas in Bangalore are similar to Jayanagar, where I live. Having ruled out Banashankari and Rajajinagar, other areas I’ve lived in, because they are “too far from the centre of town”, I started looking at other areas that are nice and residential but not far from the MG Road area.

And that thought process had taken me to the “towns”  – Frazer and Cox and Richards and all that. I hadn’t thought much about it then. And I hadn’t wondered much about what sets these “towns” apart from Jayanagar. Today’s drive gave me the answer.

There are two defining features of the “cantonment” or “towns” area – the military and the railways. As we journeyed east from Frazer Town (the one part of this part of Bangalore we are vaguely familiar with) all the way to Kammanahalli, and the outer ring road, and Banaswadi, and then back towards Indiranagar (more on that later), we kept encountering large swathes of military lands, and railway lines.

Along the way, we saw roads and areas we had only heard about but never seen. For the most part, we didn’t use Google Maps, but just kept driving along the big roads we could find. So we saw Frazer Town. We saw what we first thought was Banaswadi, but later figured is some Ramaswamy Palya or something. And then suddenly, we decided we had heard about Kammanahalli, but never knew where it was, and decided to drive towards that. Halfway up a railway bridge, we saw a signboard to a detour that would take us to Kammanahalli.

And so we went there, and drove through it. Nothing spectacular. And then I had this “flash of inspiration” that this part of town wasn’t actually very far from Indiranagar, and so we could return home via a dinner stop in Indiranagar. So I entered the address of my office (which I haven’t been to yet, but which is in Indiranagar), and let Google Maps take over.

It took us to the Outer Ring Road. And seemed to suggest a route that was going through KR Puram. “Ring roads are boring to drive on”, I declared, and seeing a detour that was “7 minutes longer” I went off the outer ring road. This took us through Banaswadi, and the drive was great (the road was great).

In any road trip, there is a point where you think you are having so much fun by exploring. And then soon after you suddenly feel tired and exhausted, and start wondering what the hell you were thinking when you decided that this drive was a good idea. Soon after we had passed Banaswadi, we had this moment. And this had to do with the railways and the military.

We had driven past Banaswadi, and encountered the Baiyyappanahalli station (with 16 platforms) that is still being renovated. This was the time when we were still feeling excited, that we were seeing parts of town that weren’t too far, but we had normally not seen.

And then we hit a mud road, and a dead end (literally. Not a T-junction). “I don’t get a good feeling here”, my wife said. I turned around and took a nearby road. This took us to a railway gate.

It is the highlighted route here. The red section near the railway line. It’s interesting that Google has coloured it red, because the section just doesn’t exist now. Maybe as part of the work done to revive the Baiyyappanahalli metro station, a new railway overbridge is being built there. That means the road itself has been closed.

This, we figured after we had crossed the railway line (this happened after a 10 minute wait for the Mysore-Kochuveli Express to pass). We crossed the line and found that the road didn’t exist after that. Everyone was going left there, but the road didn’t look good so on a whim I turned right. The road was decent.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that the other defining feature of cantonment Bangalore would come in our way – military areas. No sooner had I turned right after getting past the railway line that Google suddenly upped the time and distance estimates to Indiranagar. Soon there was a military gate to the left. “Trespassers will be fired upon”, said a board nearby. We drove on.

The size of the military area there meant that we had to go all the way back to Ulsoor Lake before going to Indiranagar. On the way, we passed a funeral procession that occupied the entire road (with lots of singing and dancing and flower throwing). We had a close shave trying to pass an auto rickshaw at an especially narrow stretch of road. At another point, we had to wait for two minutes for a cow to give us right of way.

And then, somewhere along the way, as we neared Assaye Road, I said something like “Ok, we are getting back to civilisation. Close to town now”.

The daughter, seated next to me, and supremely bored as we went round and round without stopping, asked “had we gone to a different state, appa?”.

“Yes”, I replied. “We had gone to ToK” (a tongue in cheek expression pioneered by Thejaswi Udupa (link possibly paywalled now). It can stand for either “Tamil Occupied Karnataka” and “Telugu Owned Karnataka”).

Want a nightlife? Build temples!

First of all, I’m serious. Second of all, this is not the first time I’m writing on Bangalore’s nightlife (or the lack of it). The last time I wrote about this topic, I had argued that most people in Bangalore are fundamentally illiberal and opposed to extended night life, and official response was just an embodiment of this sentiment. This post is more positive.

I think I have hit upon a solution to create a night life in Bangalore. This is based on my experiences at Amritsar and Ajmer. Both of them were extremely spiritual experiences (no, not that spirit. Alcohol is banned in the vicinity of the main shrines in both  these places). Both places offered fantastic food (again, vegetarian food only in the vicinity of the Golden Temple – but bloody brilliant; and brilliant mutton biryani near the Dargah of HKGN in Ajmer). And most importantly, both towns had a vibrant night life.

I’m not sure if I’ve touched upon this topic earlier, but the fundamental problem with Bangalore not having a night life is that it has never had one. Half of it was a traditional Indian city, and the other half was a rather sleepy cantonment town – which had its share of bars and discotheques, but most of which closed at eight in the evening (even twenty years ago, most of MG Road and Brigade Road would close at eight in the evening). Consequently, the city never did have a lifestyle. Even if you argue that the cantonment side had one, that the “city” side became more dominant after independence meant that whatever night life was there never really developed.

Fundamentally, a town gets a night life if people have some business being outdoors at night. Bombay had its textile mills that ran round the clock. New York was a busy trading port. Pick any city with a reasonable night life and you will find that sometime in its history there would have been a solid reason for people to remain outdoors late in the night. And yes, I’m talking about a solid business reason, not just partying.

The simple fact of the matter is that Bangalore has never had one (for reasons explained above). The situation is slowly changing of course, with many of Bangalore’s BPO and IT shops open through the night to service customers in the new world. Unfortunately, most such companies have insulated themselves from the rest of the city and built their own facilities for food, transportation, etc. Thanks to this, workers in such establishment (no doubt there are several) do not really contribute to the general nocturnal economy of the city. And so the administration can get away with downing shutters at bars and restaurants at 11 pm.

So what needs to be done? As the title of the post suggests, we need to build temples. We need “udbhava murtis” (idols that have sprung up from the ground) to magically spring up in several places in the city (not in the middle of roads of course). Then we need our religious leaders to declare that such murtis are the greatest to have ever existed, and to create a discourse that visiting one such murti will cure one of all past sins (or any such thing that will bring in crowds in large numbers). This needs to be a concerted effort, such that the demand for “darshan” at these murtis become humongous. The demand to see the murtis will be so humongous that the temples that are likely to spring up around them will need to be open round the clock!

And so we will have people visiting these temples late in the night, in the wee hours of the morning. Lots of people at the temple means an  enterprising chaat wallah will find it profitable to set up shop outside these temples. They will be followed by a chai wallah, and then dosa carts will begin to appear. Police will want to read the rule book to these businessmen, but their removal will lead to incurring the wrath of thousands of hungry pilgrims. The police will quietly extract their commissions and let the establishments stay. Then, people will need to get to the temples at wee hours of the morning, so we will have buses running through the night. More people moving around will mean greater “liquidity” in the auto rickshaw market and they will become more affordable at these times.

It will take a while (no good things come easily). But soon the bustling economies around these 24-hour temples will mean that the city will be alive through the night. Laws will have to change, and soon shops will be open through the night. As will be restaurants, and in the course of time bars (no promise on that one; Till very recently even in London bars had to shut at 11pm). And the city will have a night life!

Of course, the road to this liberal utopia is through a religious process. But then, don’t ends sometimes justify the means? And who is to say that an all-powerful deity does not add value to society at large? It will take concerted effort though (these idols need to magically appear in strategic locations, and we need the support of religious leaders to bless such idols – this is easier said than done), but it can be done.

PS: After writing this I realize that I’d written something similar on the Broad Mind a few months ago. Apologies for re-hashing the same idea. But don’t tell me this is not more positive.


One thing I have noticed in Bangalore – and I’m not sure if it is true in other cities in India but I have a feeling that it is – is that immigrants inhabit parts of the city which natives wouldn’t really want to live in. I’m making this observation based primarily on one data point – Ejipura.

Till a couple of years back, the only reason I’d heard of this erstwhile slum is because houses there would get flooded every time it rained. Apart from that, it was a fairly nondescript part of Bangalore “somewhere close to the 201 route”, and generally considered an area to be avoided.

And now, slums have been replaced by swanky looking apartments and office buildings, where IT companies and people who work in them have set up tent. What was earlier an unlivable part of the city has suddenly become livable. The roads remain the same though. I don’t know if the houses still get flooded. There are open drains all around. And I have no clue how localities such as this get their water and sewerage supply.

Oh and there is massive dressing up of addresses. It is not Ejipura, it is Koramangala 6th block. Similarly, it is not Byrasandra, it is Jayanagar 1st Block East. And so forth.

I think what has happened is that when the city grew in the first fifty years of independence, farmland in the villages around the pete and cantonment areas was acquired and layouts were planned. The villages themselves were left alone by the BCC/BDA. And people who migrated to the city back then (let’s say at least 20 years back) applied for and got sites in one of these planned localities where they constructed their houses. And so I grew up in this house built on a BDA-allotted site, but up the road from my house was the old Kathriguppe village.

Now, what is happening is that these villages are selling out, to private parties. Knowing the value of the land all around the village (basically in the BDA areas) , people in these villagers have suddenly realized the value of the land that they are sitting on, and are selling to private builders, who either build apartments (most of the cases) or “revenue layouts” (rare). And given that these erstwhile villages haven’t traditionally been considered livable by people living in the city for a long time, they usually end up being occupied by recent immigrants.