Saturday 18 January 2014

The Cantonment Saheba

There has always been an ongoing debate about the game of cards or rather poker, its origin and whether it is a game of  skill or a game of chance. While card players say it is a game of skill, the police and law enforcement authorities term it as a game of chance. They label it as gambling and clamp down on it.
A few days ago, the Karnataka High Court had ruled that poker is  a game of skill and, therefore, held that it does not come under gambling. The ruling was in response to petitions urging the court to set aside the police action in terming playing cards as gambling and consequently booking cases against the cars players.
Though playing cards or poker is certainly not a modern sport, it was not unknown in India. The Mysore Kingdom under the Wodeyars popularised the Ganjifa cards and one of its Kings, Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, was an expert and he himself designed several Ganjifa cards.
However, the credit for making Bangalore a card playing centre and a city that hosted Western games such as billiards, snooker, golf, football and cricket must go to the British. The Cantonment Saheba was an expert card player, apart from taking to other British customs such as dressing in a typical British fashion, puffing a cigar and eating with a fork and spoon.
All this and more  began sometime in the early 1800s when the British decide to establish a Cantonment in Bangalore. Read on…..
The British, by 1807, had decided to abandon their garrison at Srirangapatna and shift it to Bangalore. They selected an elevated piece of land abutting present day Ulsoor for their Cantonment.
The British consciously decided to allow a physical boundary of a few small tanks, lakes and a garden which later developed into Cubbon Park in the mid 1800s to separate the new establishment from the old Pete.
The old Pete had bad memories for the British and the victory they had achieved over Tipu Sultan in 1791 was bitter sweet as they had lost several British officers and men.
The stubborn resistance that the then Daroga of the fort, Bahadur Khan, had put up against Lord Cornwallis who led the British army in 1791 was still fresh in their minds. The British allowed the Wodeyars to rule over the ruined Pete, while they forced the Wodeyars to part with a large tract of  land which they named as Cantonment.    
Soon, both the Pete and Cantonment grew separately and each had its own unique and distinct identity. If the pete was full of natives, the Cantonment was the most modern British establishment boasting of well-laid out roads, parks, playgrounds, churches, military barracks, a Stately residence for the British Resident of Mysore, tanks and lakes.
The Cantonment needed people to serve the British and such people settled down in and around present day Ulsoor. While only a handful of people from the Pete could come to the Cantonment, which was out of bounds for a vast majority of Indians, the working class at Ulsoor and other localities who were mostly Tamilians, were given more access.   
The two towns-Pete and Cantonment too developed distinct cultures. The dance and ball culture of the British soon appeared on the Cantonment map. It quickly replaced the native song and dance routine, which then found itself flourishing in the Pete.
The drink-dance culture of the Cantonment gave birth to ball dances, football, cricket, cards games, billiards, tennis, boxing, musical soirees, fancy dress balls, domino dances, polo, golf and of course horse races.
BRV was initially a hall where dances were held. Raffles, the dance club, is where Deccan Herald stands today on MG Road. Just a little away from Deccan Herald on MG Road was Tom’s Billiards Parlour.
The Bangalore Palace of the Wodeyars had a highly polished wooden dance floor where Europeans danced regularly to the beat of the Wodeyar Maharaja’s royal orchestra.
The Opera cinema today at the junction of Residency Road and Brigade Road is the place where boxing bouts took place regularly. Crowds from the pete too thronged the bouts. Football matches were regularly played between European teams at the Sullivan grounds.
The first horse races were organised with the help of the Wodeyar Maharaja at Agaram. Europeans outnumbered Indians and all jockeys were British. Pubs and restaurants too began coming up in and around Cantonment.
The Cantonment was essentially Christian in character. Many churches were built and Sundays revolved on morning mass and singing. There were only handful of temples.  
On the other hand, the pete area had to be satisfied with traditional arts and traditional games. The pete area boasted of several Garadi manes where local wrestlers honed in their skills on red earth in Ranasinghpet and surrounding petes.
There were scores of temples in the Pete area and trading in commodities was the main economic activity. Kannada and Tamil apart from Telugu and a smattering of Marathi was spoken in Pete as against English in Cantonment.
If West End and Sullivan’s Inn in Whitefield signified the British eatery, it was left to small hotels to open shop in Pete areas. These hotels initially had distinct area for orthodox and non-orthodox people and they sold only dosa, idlis and vada. Of course, filter coffee was always there.
If the Mysore peta was must for a high ranking local, the Cantonment gentleman was dressed in Western dress.         
Thus the lifestyle in both the cities of Bangalore differed. This distinction led to the birth of  two new categories of fashionable people. One was called Pete Bhoopa and he was a master of the pete and the other was the dandy Cantonment Saheba.
The two entities continued with their different lifestyle and in 1947 both came to be merged as Bangalore. Yet, the merger has not been able to erase the distinction of  the old pete and the snobbery of the Cantonment.
Even today, we see tree lined avenues, broad roads, spacious bungalows, huge churches, well-maintained parks and playgrounds in Cantonment. None of them can be seen in the Pete area, which is highly congested with small and narrow roads, chok-a-block.
In the initial years, the Cantonment outstripped Pete in all aspects, including economy and population. However, the Pete hit back and slowly and surely, it pulled ahead of the Cantonment from the late 1800s.
The growth of Bangalore or rather the growth of the dual cities of Bangalore was unheard of in any other part of India. Soon, people from other states, mainly Tamilians decided to try their luck in Bangalore and they came in hordes. They were encouraged by the British and the Madras Government which wanted to desperately have a piece of the Bangalore pie.   
British officers, sick and tired of the heat of Madras and the orthodox  lifestyle, fought among themselves and used influence to get postings in Bangalore. Some even were willing to become an attendant to the British officer and all this for a posting in Bangalore.

The highly enlightened rule of the Wodeyars in making Mysore an ideal State made people decide to emigrate to Bangalore. Thus, we see that the Pete and Cantonment both gave rise to the migration of people of other religions and regions into Bangalore. No wonder, to this day, Bangalore continues to remain cosmopolitan. It is a cacophony of cultures and people and it continues to remain so. The only people who seemed to have vanished are the Pete Bhoopa and the Cantonment Saheba. In their place today we have the Cantonment educated Bangalorean sprouting a hybrid of English called Inglish and refusing to speak in Kannada. Of course, he goes to MTR but he also visits KFC and Dominoes. He rarely if ever comes to a Cinema hall but prefers the multiplex. Does he watch Kannada films. No, he prefers English and films of other languages to Kannada. Who is he? A legacy of the British Cantonment Saheba or the modern day Bhoopa. 

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