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Mosque Road - Model Or Muddle?

Swank? Spoiled? What I wonder, would be your view of present day Mosque Road, located near Bangalore East Station? Depends I guess, on whether you are a newcomer who appreciates it for its present residential cum utilitarian value, or an old timer Bangalorean like me, who misses it for its easy laid back pace of 1958.

I was just eight then, when Fraser Town (now Pulikeshnagara) became my new home after Bombay. For forty-one years, I lived on Ahmed Sait Road, which adjoins Mosque Road, just where it dips and then inclines up towards Coles Road at one end and Hajee Ismail Sait Masjid at the other.

During that time, Mosque Road was very much the hub of the area’s commercial activities. It was a majestic, tree-lined, shade-providing avenue, similar to many others in various other parts of our city. It still is. Lined with rainflower or ‘gum’ trees (Samanea Saman) that shed what we termed ‘gum coys’ during the monsoon. These would get crushed under the wheels of passing vehicles and be embedded into the road, and heaven forbid, into the soles of our footwear if we unknowingly stepped on them.

We’d also get our kicks from de-seeding their pods and rubbing the beans against our clothes till they developed an intolerable degree of heat, just so we could press these on unsuspecting friends faces, to evoke their shrieks. On view are also plenty of Spathodea Campanulata trees named ‘piss coy’ in local slang, which is very descriptive of its fruit that squirts a liquid when squeezed.

The mosque, which gives the road its name, was a humble structure in my time. We were attuned to the muezzin’s call at dawn and dusk each day, as we were to the ITC factory sirens across the railway tracks. The mosque stands at the corner adjoining Madhavaraya Mudaliar (MM) Road, and just beyond it is the railway overbridge connecting with Pottery and Clarke Roads.

These led to the then outer limit of Bangalore (I refer to the 1950s and 1960s now) – Richards Town and da Costa Square, with Lingarajapuram as its ultimate periphery. Beyond was Silver Lake, a popular picnic spot and one for a romantic rendezvous. After that it was on to the back of the beyond for us.

Hennur Road and its parallel Banaswadi Road with vineyards, mango groves, granite quarries and cashuarina groves. And quite a few water bodies to boast of too. No garbage or effluent dumps like today, as is the Mosque road drain.

These were the wilds, or the countryside, of our adventurous youthful hiking and biking trips.
The beginning of Mosque Road, linking it to Coles Road, connecting to the older Bangalore, was actually at AM Bakery and Café, which was much patronised by us during our schooldays. Japanese cakes and cream horns were their speciality.
Most schools were located on Promenade Road, not far away. Shops for daily provisions were AM Stores and Circle Stores. ‘Drain Vadais’ were famous, especially on rainy and wintry evenings, and were sold by a woman sitting (under her umbrella) in the drain alongside Circle Stores, located opposite the Mosque. Cycling was our mode of transport during school and college days, with few cars, hardly any buses, no autos and mostly cycle rickshaws to contend with.

My mum used to move around in one, with faithful Muniswamy (dressed in shirt and lungi hitched up over striped cotton drawers) pedalling her to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral or Holy Ghost Church, or to Russell Market and Richards Square in Shivajinagar, the latter two for procuring monthly provisions and other home needs. Albert Bakery delivered bread and biscuits to homes at tea time daily, hot and fresh out of a trunk carried on a bicycle.

Baking of our Christmas cakes each year was done in the large ovens at the home of the same baker, who lived on the parallel Robertson road. We’d carry across the trays filled with the raw ingredients which had been blended in our own home with a generous dose of the festive spirits.

Our earliest friends were a mix and match of caste and creed and remain so till today. The Mistrys lived at the Mosque Road junction of our road, the Pintos and Dattatreyans on Mosque road, and our immediate neighbours were the elderly Smith couple and Mrs. Stephens. My particular friends were the youngsters Naseema Begum and Inayathullah Khan, Tony and Clive Stephens.

Later, Rupert and Rayonette Stephens were always the first to visit on special occasions and to lend a helping hand as my parents grew older.

The Bethesda Assembly, Seventh Day Adventist Hospital and Dr. Chander’s Clinic catered to soul and bodily health respectively. Later Mubarak Laundry, Thomson Bakery and Balaji Tailors and the UCO Bank and SBI expanded the commercial activity in the area that showed the first signs of making Mosque Road and Coles Road resemble a metropolis.

Designer stores, eateries and glittering mini malls have replaced the earlier humble looking family enterprises. MM road is the ‘toast of tastes’ at Ramzan Roza - to break Iftaar with water, grapes and more sumptuous delights well before dusk was a hot pursuit this year, with the roadside stalls and restaurants full of ‘foodies’ rich and poor alike, who came from far flung areas of Bangalore to sample its offerings.

The Masjid has turned posh, flaunting grand embellishments with glow signs proclaiming The Prophet’s preachings. I still hear the plaintive chanting at dawn and dusk, as I have all my life, which keeps me in touch with the familiar.

Many of the gracious homes on Mosque Road are gone, including my parental one. Many good neighbours and friends from before are no more. The Bethesda Assembly still stands firm in faith, as does Albert Bakery. Its business has grown, handled by three generations, and thrives in renovated premises, with standards still maintained but prices astronomical in keeping with the times.

The bakery’s renown thrives too, on rumour that a local IT bigwig purchases ‘gutlis’ here, considering them the only ones a worthy substitute for his favourite Mumbai ‘daily bread’.

Thus Mosque Road in 2013 sings a tune totally contrary to the one I first learned in 1958. Business is its theme song today. Sadly, the old Bangalore spirit of ‘laid back’ holds for nothing anymore. Pace and space jostle side by side, as traffic flies by fast and thick, thoughtless of who gets hit, while stores attract with materialistic mantras and prices that match.

So much for our muddled Mosque Road and its adjuncts, Coles and muddled MM Roads.