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D P Satish
Tuesday , August 29, 2006 at 03 : 19

In praise of vintage


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Old buildings talk, and give our cities character. Why are we razing them?

Old buildings fascinate me. The older the better. Whenever I go to a new place, I first try to look up its old buildings.

I spent the best years of my youth gazing at old structures. I used to spend my free time in Bangalore roaming around the Cantonment area looking for old buildings.

The sight of an old structure fills me with joy and excitement. Old buildings haunt me even in my dreams.

I was fascinated by Elgin Talkies in Shivajinagar. Unlike other colonial buildings, this is not an imposing structure. It is a small, single-storey building at a busy, working class intersection. It was built the same year Lumiere brothers invented the cinema!

I used to walk down from Express Building on Queen's Road to Shivajinagar just to get a glimpse of the crumbling cinema hall. At one time it had screened English classics for the white men who lived in the Cantonment.

Once someone said Elgin would be pulled down to make way for a shopping complex. The thought filled me with melancholy for many days. By God's grace, the old beauty still lives.

Whenever I call my friends who live in the Cantonment area, I remember to ask them about the health of Elgin.

The MG Road area, once dotted with elegant British-style cinema halls, is being transformed into Bangalore's Madison Avenue. The economic liberalisation of the 1990s and the IT & BT boom have done in all the grand old cinemas in just ten years.

Another cinema next to Oriental Building (which houses the LIC office at a corner of MG Road, opposite Anil Kumble circle) disappeared some decades ago. It has now disappeared even from the memory of Bangaloreans.

Imperial, adjacent to the War Memorial at the southern end of Brigade Road, went more recently. It used to screen cheap, semi-porn Malayalam and English movies during its last days. Its owner had decided to demolish it to make way for a shopping mall. He was poisoning its reputation by screening smutty movies. He wanted to keep genuine movie buffs away.

Lido was a landmark on Old Madras Road. And then there was Galaxy, behind Mayo Hall. The death of Plaza, next to the Deccan Herald office, came just a couple of years ago.

The only theatre surviving from the British Raj is Rex on Brigade Road. It is fighting a valiant battle, screening English and Hindi films. How long will it survive? How long can it hold out against the onslaught of commerce?

I still remember all the movies I watched at Plaza: 'A Beautiful Mind' , ' Life is Beautiful ', 'Casablanca'. Movies that left me with moist eyes. The chairs were old and the upholstery tattered. Rats roamed around freely. But it was always a great experience to watch movies at Plaza. Nobody complained. For most people, it was a sentimental thing.

I don't feel as warm and comfortable in the new multiplexes. I skip watching movies these days. Multiplexes look like huge drawing rooms of big houses. No feelings. No sentiments.

The British Cantonment was once dotted with sprawling Victorian bungalows, gardens, brick compound walls, wrought iron gates and empty roads.

It now looks like a newly built suburb with ugly apartments, teeming with young people who have no time or appreciation for the aesthetics of the past.

I used to live in a flat just behind Coles Park ten years ago. I went back from Delhi to Bangalore three months ago to see my old friends. To my horror, I found bungalows on Hayes Road and near St Francis Xavier's Church vanishing.

Cook Town, Wheeler Road, Fraser Town, Benson Town, Assaye Road, Commercial Street, Ulsoor Road, Cockburn Street, Church Street, Primrose Road, Brunton Road, Longford Town, Richmond town, Victoria Layout, Lavelle Road, Museum Road ... all just names now. The majestic houses and wide roads that once represented them are gone.

The old beauties that remain are counting their days.

We are now left with only churches and old cemeteries. The 200-year-old Indian British Cemetery on Adugodi Road fascinates me. Thousands of unknown, unsung white men have been laid to rest here. On a couple of occasions, I tried to sneak into the cemetery to have a close dekko at the graves and tombstones. My attempts met with little success. The security guard, worried about thieves digging up the graves for treasure, refused to believe I was genuinely interested just in looking around a burial ground. If not a thief, he must have thought, this must be a mad cap!

But happily, I managed to spend hours at some very old cemeteries in Kasauli and Shimla. I achieved something in a strange place which I couldn't achieve in my own place. Ofcourse, I bribed the guards there. They call it Baksheesh!

One day even these cemeteries may disappear to make way for heartless commercial monstrosities. How economics impinges upon all else!

Old buildings are not just buildings. Each has a story to tell. They represent the character of a place. With old structures disappearing, cities lose their character.

Sad feeling. My heart cries.    


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More about D P Satish

D P Satish has been a journalist for the past 14 years. Born at the picturesque Jog Falls in Shimoga district of Karnataka, Satish did his graduation in English Literature. He is a post-graduate in Journalism from the prestigious Asian College of Journalism, Bangalore (now in Chennai). After a brief stint with the Indian Express Group, he shifted to TV. He also worked for an American news magazine called ' Image '. He has widely travelled and covered some of the biggest events from South of Vindhyas in the first decade of the 21st century. He is passionate about English literature, classical music, cinema, history, photography, jazz and Cricket. A self-proclaimed centrist, Satish keenly follows major political developments from across the World. He blogs regularly and spends hours searching for readable material from the Internet! He belives that journalism is a calling and a person meant to be a journalist, can't escape from it. A hillman at heart and by birth, Satish lives and works in New Delhi. But, loves Bangalore more than Delhi!
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