Tuesday 6 August 2013

The informal economy of petes

Bangalore today is a bustling metropolis and is better known as the Silicon City. Gone are its earlier names such as Garden City or Pensioners Paradise.
The rapid urbanisation of Bangalore has seen many landmarks and heritage buildings and areas razed to the ground. What many do not know is that the establishment of the Cantonment by the British in Bangalore in 1806 signalled the beginning of the end of the Pete or Pettah area.
When the British decided to shift their troops from Srirangapatna to Bangalore, they compelled the ruling Wodeyar King of Mysore to transfer more than 9000 acres of land near Ulsoor lake to them for building a modern military establishment.
John Blackiston was entrusted with designing of the Cantonment. The British preferred to bring labourers and other people from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and ignored the old Pete or Pettah area which till 1799 was ruled by Tipu Sultan. They preferred to let the Pete area to be handled by the Mysore Government.
The moat around the fort was dried and the thorns surrounding them to a distance of 100 yards removed. The British guarded the Cantonment zealously and did not permit natives from the Pete to enter Cantonment.
Entry to Cantonment was regulated and Indians had to obtain passes to visit Cantonment, which soon became the second biggest garrison of the British in South India. The Cantonment had broad roads, avenue lined trees, lakes and tanks, parks, tastefully designed bungalows and vast open spaces, playgrounds, churches and of course military barracks.
The old pete continued to be grossly neglected. While the Pete areas were highly congested and overpopulated, the Cantonment soon overtook the pete both in terms of population and trade. The revenues of the Cantonment grew and more and more people migrated to the new City. Till 1911, the population of Cantonment continued to outstrip that of the Pete.
It was Kempe Gowda who laid out the petes in 1537 with permission from the Vijayanagar Emperor, Achuta Deva Raya. The Bangalore Pete area, which is rectangular, covers 2.5 km from east to west and 1.5 km from north to south. It was initially laid out north of the fort. Kempe Gowda had segregated each pete according to a particular trade and this continued well into the reigns of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan and even later.
Both Kempe Gowda I and his son Kempe Gowda II invited businessmen, traders and artisans to settle down in Bangalore and each class of traders got a separate pete or locality. This is how Doddapet or big market, Chickpet or small market, Balepet or locality of bangle makers, Akki pete or rice market, Uppara pet or salt sellers area, Kumbara pet or pot makers area, Ganigarapet or oil makers and Arale pet or Cottonpet (textiles) came up.
Bangalore by then had emerged as an important trading centre. The trading activity went into a sharp decline when Tipu prohibited trading with Hyderabad. Arcot and Madras. When Tipu died in 1799, trading was almost non-existent in Bangalore.
However, once the Wodeyars took over the Pete area and the British the Cantonment, Bangalore once again picked up activity in commerce. People living in Pete areas began modifying their dwelling houses into commercial and business establishments. Since the petes had limited space, commercial establishments came up on the ground floor and houses on the first and second floors. Many landmark buildings were either pulled down or converted into business houses. The old palace of Shahaji in Chickpet was demolished to make way for buildings. Several houses, built decades earlier, were either repaired or pulled down to make way for business houses.
Soon, almost all independent houses in the petes made way for commercial establishments and even today the petes such as Balepet, Chickpet, Doddapet, Cottonpet, Mamulpet, Taramandalpet, Ranasinghpet, Nagarthpet, Akkipet and others areas host a variety of  shops, business establishments and commercial outlets.   
The explosion of trade and commerce in the pete areas and the rush of people forced the Government to go in for new layouts which were purely residential in nature and character. The great plague of 1898, which affected the pete, led to the founding of  Basavanagudi and Malleswaram. Other localities soon followed.
Thus, the pete city is the only known example in south India of  transforming itself into a commercial hub. There is no other such example.
Today, the Pete is in the heart of Bangalore and it has a population of over 2 lakhs. It lends itself to diverse land use with residential comprising 37.5 per cent, commercial: 34.6 per cent and industrial: 6.1  per cent. Medarpete is home to more than 500 families of Rajput community, while Muslims predominate Kumbarpete. The pete even today has temples, mosques and even churches, jostling for space with wholsesale traders and small retailers.
The pete has the largest informal economy in Bangalore. A  special feature of the Pete is the concentration of its activities on certain streets and neighbourhoods. The best example is the textile industry of Cubbonpet. Such specialization has encouraged access to information, led to formation of shop owners associations, distilled social regulations such as live-work culture.
One of the best description of the pete is found in Maratha chronicles called Bhaker such as Shiva Bhaker which described Bangalore of the period as a prosperous trading centre, stocked with shops selling goods and merchandise. The British work, “The Military History of Madras Engineers and Pioneers from 1743 up to the Present Time”, compiled by H.M. Vibart (1881). Bangalore as a major trading centre is also described in his work by Francis  Buchanan.
Buchanan visited Bangalore in 1800, just a few months after the death of Tipu in Srirangapatna in 1799 and he gives us a vivid account of Bangalore, Mysore and Srirangapatna. He says Bangalore was known for its varied products and commodities like blankets, cotton, silk, yarn, betel nut, black pepper, sandalwood and salt. He also says Bangalore had several industrial units relating to tanning, oil pressing and gunny manufacture.
Another work on Bangalore is Picturesque India: A handbook for European travelers by W. S. Caine. The Illustrations in the book serialized by The Spectator were by John Pedder, H. Sheppard Dale, and H. H. Stanton.
The book was first published 1890 by G. Routledge & sons, limited. Here, Caine says the pete has handsome houses of prosperous merchants.
Today, the houses may have gone but the trades remain and till the middle of the 20th century they drove the economy of Bangalore. It was only when big public sector units set shop here and Bangalore became a manufacturing hub that the pete took a back seat.

Even the Government and the agencies have now realized the importance of keeping the Pete tradition and economy alive. The Infrastructure Development Corporation (Karnataka) Limited has come up with a pre-feasibility report on revitalizing the pete area and reviving its economy.   

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