“I have lived here for 82 years. Ever since I was born,” says Vimala Rangachar, a resident of Malleswaram, Bangalore. The great granddaughter of Venkatranga Iyengar, who is said to have founded the Malleswaram extension back in 1892, Rangachar says, “He (Iyengar) was connected to the Bangalore municipality then and came riding on his horse and chanced upon the Kadu Malleswara temple. As the name suggests (kadu means forest in Kannada), it was a beautiful, wooded area, and he thought that the area must be lived in.” Iyengar then invited several families to come and purchase land in the area and Malleswaram was built. Rangachar was a year old when Iyengar died.
“The most important cultural spaces were temples, and this locality has many,” she says. As for the new Bangalore with its high-rises and apartment complexes, Rangachar says, “It seems very haphazard to me—wherever you find some land, you build.” She adds that even as the rest of the city was changing, Malleswaram remained untouched until about five years ago because of its distance from the IT district, about an hour’s drive away.
The change is a drastic one even for Archana Prasad, Rangachar’s niece, who runs Jaaga, a public charitable trust that supports artists, technologists, and social and environmental change activists. Jaaga initiated a project for “Neighbourhood Accessibility Planning in Malleswaram” in partnership with the directorate of urban land transport (DULT) in December. “It started out as an effort to see if we can make living in and experiencing our locality better,” says Prasad. “The objective of this project is to take stock of the existing environment and assess the problems faced by the local people, especially the elderly, children and differently abled, and explore routes for non-motorized transport,” says Prasad.
Krupa Rajangam, a conservation architect who is also working on the project with a team of volunteers, has spent the last three months handing out 1,500 questionnaires asking residents about the spaces in the locality they think are socioculturally important. “In the research with students, we got answers like Café Coffee Day, or some juice stall,” she laughs. For the older folk, she says, it was important to have spaces like temples and performance auditoriums to be accessible. The survey will be used in DULT’s pilot project to plot roads for non-motorized transport and walking, as alternatives for pedestrians to keep away from the main roads that are polluted and clogged with traffic.
“We are also suggesting that people might want to have heritage sights and marketplaces to be along these non-motorized roads, since it is usually people on bicycles and foot who stop to admire architecture,” says Rajangam, suggesting that Malleswaram with its old-style houses and spots like the Seva Sadan Orphanage for girls that was built by Nobel laureate Sir C.V. Raman’s wife, make for interesting tours.
To add colour to the celebration of the old world, Jaaga also formed a collaboration between five Indian and five German artists. The collaboration, Art with Jaaga, part of the Urban Avantgarde event, took place under the framework of “Germany + India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities”, allowing easy exchanges between artists of the two countries. Funded by the German government via the Goethe Institut, these 10 artists have been painting on walls across Malleswaram and have even painted five Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses. “It was a fun project, where one side of the bus was painted by an Indian artist and the other by a German artist,” says Prasad.
“Since the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) already has art by local artists across the city, we thought we should introduce other types of art which are more like graffiti art so the residents can appreciate that,” says Robert Kaltenhäuser, the German curator for the project. “We know that the work will go on even after we leave, and our art will continue to live along with the initiative,” he says, referring the wall and bus art that he and his team contributed to.
The artist have painted walls in popular spots like the Malleswaram railway station and the bus station in addition to the walls of several residences that allowed them to splash paint on their houses.
George Mathen, artist by day and drummer for Bangalore band Lounge Piranha by evening, has spent days painting two walls inside a community park in Malleswaram, depicting an auto that looks like a dangerous, gigantic insect. “ It’s a topic that will resonate with anybody who lives in Bangalore and has begged an auto guy to go to a destination,” says Mathen.
As a culmination of the three-month-long research and collaboration, a festival, Malleswaram Moves, was held on 25 February.The streets were lined with the brightly painted buses, each of which had art shows and installations inside.
Take a walk across Malleswaram’s 9th Cross Road, the railway station and the bus station to see some of the work by the artists.
For details on the Malleswaram Accessibility Project, visit yourmap.in