During the making of a series of six films titled Whitefield Diaries , capturing the nostalgia of Whitefield and its inception in the 1880s, conservation architect Krupa Rajangam and Jaaga Media Centre founder Archana Prasad, along with cameraperson Clemence Barret, rediscovered the colonial history of the area. They found parts of the village still exist in the urban suburb that it has become now, as do several old-time residents with stories to tell.
It all began in 1882 when, in a generous moment, the then maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wodeyar, granted 3,900 acres for the creation of a settlement where the European and Anglo-Indian communities could build homes and raise farms. So Whitefield was born, named after D.S. White who came up with the idea of the settlement and also lived there.
“Over time, it became a village with beautiful villas and orchards that attracted those who worked in Kolar Gold Fields and Bangalore to come there for short holidays,” says Rajangam, indicating that Whitefield, not Bangalore, was the original pensioner’s paradise. “I wanted to get away from the noise of Bangalore to a more rustic place,” says Merlyn D’Souza, a resident of Whitefield, who moved to the area 21 years ago. The inner circle of the township, hidden within the IT suburb that is now host to the International Tech Park Bangalore (ITPB), created in 1998, and a string of multinational companies, was about 3.5 sq. km that stretched between what is now Forum mall and Hope Farm Junction.
Past perfect: Little Gem, owned by Shirley Davis, is said to have been the village police station. Photographs by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Theatre person Arundhati Raja, who moved to Whitefield in 1973, recalls that even at that time, life here was semi-rural. But that began to change in 1998 with the opening of the tech park. “It changed in the main shopping area where new shops began to come up and the original Mir Sahib’s General Store took a back seat,” says Raja, who rode the wave of change by entering into a joint development of her 3-acre farm with a builder in 2004. The deal enabled her to finance the building and running of a theatre space called Jagriti that opened in 2010 and shares the premises with the apartment complex. The marking of the Export Promotion Industrial Park zone in 1994 in Whitefield brought with it residential development in the surrounding areas. Palm Meadows, a gated community with roads lined with decorative palms, houses with similar facades, clubs and gyms, was one of the first to provide corporate heads, moving into the country to explore new business, lifestyles they were familiar with.
From then on, there was no stopping the development. Farmers from the surrounding villages sold acres of land to give way to high-rises and IT companies. Today, Whitefield is a beacon of Bangalore’s “technology city” status, providing new opportunities for business every day. Young residents of the area with disposable incomes have encouraged the opening of new malls in the past decade, while several hospitality brands have entered the area with business hotels to cater to the corporate traveller. “In time, we realized that it made no sense for expatriates and other travellers to stay in Bangalore city and drive to Whitefield every day for business,” says Mahesh Aiyer, general manager, Vivanta By Taj, Whitefield, about the opening of the business hotel in 2009.
Vivian D’Souza’s home was once Waverly Inn.
Despite these changes, the village continues to co-exist in a quiet corner.
We took a walk with Paul D’Souza—Merlyn’s son and our guide—a resident of 21 years in the area. “The locality was planned so there would be an inner circle that has a playground and greenery with an outer circle that has colonial bungalows,” explains D’Souza. “Most people know the new Whitefield in all its urban grandeur. What is not known is the old, and that had to be documented,” says Rajangam. Though several people have moved out since, first during the time of independence and then again during the 1960s and 1970s, there is chatter among the current residents that some of the families that left are keen to move back.
The Whitefield Memorial Church
Built in 1886, it was one of the first public structures in the settlement. It was unique in that it was non-denominational and held services both for the Church of South India and The Anglican Church of India. Later, a second church for Catholics was built, leaving this as a place of worship for Protestants and Anglicans. Its structure, like other buildings, is in colonial style, but has seen several renovations over time.
Paul D’Souza’s parents bought the century-old house 21 years ago.
The church was recently in he news when the city’s corporation, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, started breaking its compound wall to widen the road. Residents managed to stop the breaking of the wall.
Located on the main road or the outer circle, the colonial house with a high-tiled roof that was built in the early 1900s is hidden among lime and custard apple trees. Little Gem, the home of Shirley and Brian Davis, is perhaps the first sign of old-style architecture that you will chance upon when driving into Whitefield. Built by a William Charles Johnson, it was originally named Rencot, but the name changed every time the house changed hands.
The building is said to have been a police station in the 1930s and 1940s, with one room used as a prison cell. While there is no official documentation to support this claim, letters and correspondence suggest this to be true. Also, there is a large space in front of the house that protrudes a bit on to the main road, and is said to have been used for police parades.
The most told story among Whitefield residents is of the time when Winston Churchill, the former British prime minister, stayed at Waverly. Rumour has it that Churchill also courted Rose Hamilton, the daughter of the innkeeper. But while that story has no backing, it is true that Waverly was the only inn in the area, and transport to it from Whitefield Railway station could be arranged by writing a letter to Hamilton’s wife days in advance. Originally owned by James Hamilton, the inn, which is now home to Vivian D’Souza, is perhaps the only building that retains its original structure. “It is one of the oldest houses, the core is original from the 1800s and then things have been added on over a period,” says Rajangam.
Merlyn and her husband bought their house 21 years ago from an old-time resident. Built at least 100 years ago in the inner circle of Whitefield, the building occupies only one-third of the plot it is built on; the rest is dedicated to plants and fountains. Though the high-tiled roof and the antique curios in the house retain the original flavour of the house, the front portion was renovated 30 years ago to add a room with a low ceiling that stands out from the remaining structure. Paul, who is an avid collector of antiques, is always on the lookout for furniture and decor from the previous century to maintain the rustic look.
Whitefield Diaries documentaries, funded by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) UK, are the first set of films from a larger project called Neighbourhood Diaries that will explore histories of architecture of locales in India. The films can be viewed at http://neighbourhooddiaries. email@example.com