A walk around the 13 acres is a reminder of how green Bangalore can be. Butterflies playfully dance around the flowerbeds as the sun sneaks through a canopy of branches. Evergreen trees, some nearly a 100 years old, tower over the heritage property, almost like guardians to their surroundings. The fact that this 148-year-old institution has managed to retain its character and green cover, despite sitting in the heart of a commercial district, is in itself a matter of pride for Bangalore. Yet, Bangalore Club faces the threat of being muscled down by bureaucratic bullies and gutted by political greed.
Trouble started late last year, when the driver of an IPS officer was reportedly denied entry as his vehicle did not have the club parking sticker. Soon after the officer was suspended from the club over the fracas, the Excise Department suddenly decided to raid the premises and temporarily revoked the Club's liquor license. Six months later, the club was bowled another googly, this time by the Revenue department. The notice asks Bangalore Club to vacate in a week.
"If we citizens don't unite and speak out now and preserve our iconic institutions, in a decade from now there won't be any heritage to speak of. "
Almost 150 years after the institution was built, the government of the day claims that the land belongs to them and they want it back. Never mind that the club has submitted to the Revenue department all documents, including the encumbrance certificate issued by the BBMP from 1873 to 2004, khatha extract and a notarised copy of the sale deed dating 1873 that shows the land was purchased from a certain Mr V Govindoo Chetty for back then a princely sum of Rs 18,000.
As we speak the matter is in the High Court, which has told the state authorities to "abide by a gentleman's agreement".
It is clear to anybody who has followed the sequence of events that the administration's attitude reeks of vindictiveness and downright bullying to prove a point. In fact, at a broader level it also speaks volumes about the administration's utter lack of care or respect for the city's heritage. Here is an institution that has witnessed history like few others have. It's a place where former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was once member and left behind uncleared dues of Rs 13! This is also the institution where the first Indian invited during the British era was none other than the Maharaja of Mysore. Instead of celebrating the fact that such an institution has not fallen to shambles, like several historical places, there's an effort to annihilate it.
The argument that Bangalore Club is only for the elite is nothing but a smokescreen. In fact this club is one of the few historic institutions that still have membership open, unlike several of its contemporaries in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata where memberships are long closed. Bangalore Club is a democratic institution that follows a waiting list system and the fee to become a member is relatively affordable. So where is the question of elitism? Or is the entire controversy just a ploy to ensure this green lung is taken over and eventually sold under the garb of "development"? After all this heritage compound sits bang in the middle of a business district where the going rate is Rs 15,000 per square foot.
Once a paradise of gardens, Bangalore is on its last life support of green and open spaces. Trees have been felled for concrete towers, blaring horns have replaced the chirping of birds and lakes have been choked. Now the city's historic institutions are under attack. The "arm-twisting" has started with one club. It doesn't matter if we are members of such institutions or not. If we citizens don't unite and speak out now and preserve our iconic institutions, in a decade from now there won't be any heritage to speak of.
Disclaimer: Rupali Mehra is a member of Bangalore Club. These views are strictly her own and do not represent that of the club or its office bearers.