FEATURE: INDIA TODAY/SIMPLY BANGALORE/ INDIRANAGAR RE-INVENTED





Indiranagar re-invented

Yesterday’s wilderness is today’s haute haunt. A look at the area’s changing face.

It happened so fast that residents of Indiranagar still haven’t had time to come to terms with what’s hit them. Some are agape with delight, others with dismay. From a sleepy tree-lined locality that attracted more joggers than shoppers, Indiranagar has, in the course of a few years, metamorphosed into Bangalore’s most thriving retail hub.

Right up to the early 1990s, Indiranagar was an outpost beyond Ulsoor, almost exclusively the domain of retired defence personnel. A handful of shops (Aroma Bakery and M.K. Ahmed), the redoubtable Chinmaya Mission Hospital (CMH) and temple, wide streets and houses, some big, some of modest mien, scattered here and there. The residents of nearby teeming Domlur would often use the deserted stretch of 100 Foot Road for their early morning walks.

The wide roads are still around, only now they’re hedged in by cramped apartment blocks that are coming up on every cross, CMH road is now filled with shops selling just about everything and 100 Foot Road is chock-a-block with traffic every hour of the day.

The thing is that Bangalore has come to Indiranagar with a vengeance. You want rasgollas? K.C.Das is here. Cosmetics? Go check out the local branch of Health and Glow. Bhandhej, Soma, Fabindia, Jealous Jeans and Identiti sit alongside a host of other clothing shops. Even the Max Mueller Bhavan has moved here. The Indiranagar Club with its ever-burgeoning list of members, meets most social and sporting requirements of the locals.

Artist and singer Arathi Shetty, and enthusiastic Indiranagar resident says, “It’s all up, no downsides to living in Indiranagar. It is peaceful and quiet and everything is a stone’s throw away.” Her husband, Sunil, who is part-owner of Indiranagar’s first pub, Take Five, tempers his praise: “Indiranagar is doing okay but can all too easily go down like other places have. People living here just don’t do enough to ensure that Indiranagar stays in the city loop but retains its good characteristics.``

Brian Nobbay, dermatologist and one of the city’s familiar faces, who has been practicing in Indiranagar for the past six years, agrees. “What we need is a sound zoning law so that commercial establishments don’t encroach into residential space. This will ensure that Indiranagar blooms and booms.”

Boom-time it truly is for commercial establishments like Food World and Nilgiris, specialty shops like Monday to Sunday and the popular HOPCOMS outlet that offers cabbages and king cabbages, and everything in between. Nalini Ramchandran, homemaker, who has been living in Indiranagar for the past 16 years says, “It’s become such a convenient place to live in with CMH Road’s shops just a few minutes away and institutions like Purandhare Bhavan which hosts musical recitals and dance performances at very nominal rates. Of course, the traffic situation is worsening by the day, but when I compare it to Koramangla, I’m glad that I live here.” What makes it even more convenient for the residents, she adds, is that almost all the banks have opened branches here.

Not just banks, early commercial settlers too, have branches here. M. K. Ahmed now has two retail outlets down the road and Vivek’s, the electrical appliances store, has grown from one small shop to three branches, all in the same area. Besides, there are at least three lending libraries in the vicinity. Antique shops, lifestyle boutiques, beauty salons and laundries make up the rest of the invasion.
Jeanne Leong of Salon Jeanne has been styling the hair of residents for a decade now and she too, has nothing but plaudits for the locality. “The people who live here are very trendy. They never hesitate to experiment with their hair and looks, which could probably explain why they have embraced the new-look Indiranagar so whole-heartedly.”

Foodies too can rejoice at the choice of options available here. Virtually every road has restaurants that serve up all kinds of food from the ever-popular dosa-sambar and bisibele bath of the Shanthi Sagar chain to specialty breads at Herbs and Spices and Creole cusine at Sue’s Place. There is a heavenly smell of fresh bread and buns wafting from the many bakeries, be it ye olde Iyengar Bakery, or the newest entrant on the yeast block, Cakewalk. As for the young ‘uns, there’s always Barista and Café Coffee Day.

But there is a word of caution amongst all the plaudits. Lalitha Bannerjee, who relocated to Indiranagar from Washington DC and now works for an NGO, says, “It’s a beautiful locality with green parks, wide streets and everything you need is within a three-km radius. Let’s not flood the area with brash yuppies and drive the older residents away.”

The local Defence Colony Residents Association (DECORA) is doing its best to make this Indiranagar a model locality. Old-time resident, Maj Gen N.I.K. Murthy offers a pragmatic view, “I’ve been here for 16 years and have helped create the children’s park, the walking and the senior citizen’s parks. But I have also watched Defence Colony lose out to the big builders lobby. But this is all a part of progress. We are definitely better off than residents of other parts of this crowded city.”

However, when the general’s wife Premila rues the dearth of affordable domestic help, she speaks for those residents caught in a time warp, the older residents of the area. They settled in Indiranagar envisaging a life of peace and quiet but the mushrooming of commercial establishments have dented that dream, as has the infusion of new money which has hiked up rates for hired help. Which explains why many old-timers have sold their bungalows and moved elsewhere; those still here live in a sort of limbo, unable to keep up with its changing face.

Jayanti Prasad, corporate sales manager at Jet Airways and wife of cricketer Venkatesh Prasad is scathing in her comments “All these apartments have hastened the downslide of Indiranagar. Now this place is known for haphazard parking, clogged drains and garbage everywhere.” She calls it the “anyplace but my backyard syndrome”and adds, “what is worse, lovely old trees have been made to resemble Ikebana specimens after needless trimming and pruning.”

The problems in Indiranagar are pretty much the problems swamping other living spaces in Bangalore. These include blurring of residential-commercial lines, indiscriminate dumping of garbage of streets, burglaries and murders of helpless elderly residents.

Xerxes Desai, longtime resident and former vice-chairman of Titan, concurs, “Indiranagar has changed character and I’m not sure that I like its new persona. For all its faults, however, this area still retains vestiges of how the Garden City used to and ought to look. But if this unbridled transformation continues, what we will lose is more than just a livable locality, something of the old Bangalore will go, too.”

Despite the unanimity and substantial nature of the protest involved, it is typical of the Bangalorean that, at the end of the day, it all seems more a case of sound and fury signifying little result. However, one look at other residential areas like Kormangala, Malleswaram, Jayanagar, the new HSR Layout and you realise that Indiranagar still has it good. It is truly cosmopolitan in the mix of residents and shops, the walking parks are green oases. After all, where else will you be able to walk down a quiet, sun-dappled cross one evening and come across a gleaming yellow Corvette?


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