Established as a self-sufficient Anglo-Indian community, Whitefield now houses Bengaluru’s leading MNCs. We talk to residents who recall the ‘Good-ol’ days’ before it became a sprawling suburb grappling with civic issues.
Sixty-nine-year-old B.Dileep Rao has lived in Whitefield for over five decades now. When I insist, he reluctantly reminiscences fond memories of growing up in the Whitefield of his dreams.
When I first moved here in 1965, only three-four families had a car. I could easily count the number of cars and two-wheelers that moved on the mud roads in the Inner and Outer circle, he recounts.
"Open spaces, lots of trees and empty roads- that’s the earliest memory I have of the good-old days spent here", recalls Sean Jude William Lawrence who spent carefree summer holidays during his childhood loitering and climbing trees in Whitefield.
These memoirs might very much reflect the grandeur of a bygone era of Whitefield, but none could imagine its metamorphosis from a sleepy Anglo Indian hamlet to one of the plushest addresses in Bengaluru. At least, not at this scale.
Whitefield, named after David Emmanuel Starkenburgh White, was established as an Anglo-Indian village way back in 1882. Built on nearly 4,000 acres of land granted by the then Maharaja of Mysore, this eastern suburb was planned in concentric circles with a central ‘Village Green’ area. White envisioned the settlers of Whitefield to work towards the common good without owning any property.
Ironically, Whitefield today is one of the most preferred residential localities in Bengaluru where real-estate prices have sky-rocketed in the recent past. So, how did the IT boom come to replace the vintage charm of Whitefield? And what are the factors that heralded such a sweeping change?
The Whitefield traffic is renowned through frequent memes that circulate on social media. However, the traffic scenario was never worse before the turn of the century.
There was just a narrow single carriageway on Whitefield Main Road before, but traffic jams were certainly not heard of. The drastic increase in traffic happened only after 2001, says Sean, adding that driving on the pothole ridden roads of Whitefield today is a nightmare.
Recent monsoon repairs and digging up of roads for water works has irked many Whitefield residents, who even united to stage a protest earlier this year. The roads and traffic in Whitefield is so notorious that many like Sean prefer to take buses for their regular commute to work. “There is no point driving three hours every day. Instead, I can spend that time productively by reading or catching up on news”.
Encroachment and rapid urbanisation
According to Dileep Rao, there were just about 1,500-2,000 people in Whitefield in 1965 with dominant Anglo Indian population. The Census 2011 data estimates the current population in Whitefield to exceed one lakh.
The major population boom happened with the setting up of International Tech Park Bangalore (ITPB), earlier called ITPL in the late 1990s. The MNCs functioning out of this tech park accelerated this growth throughout the millennium years, with which came rapid urbanisation, encroachment and pollution, says Dileep.
The senior citizen is also disheartened about the indiscriminate way in which Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) issued permissions to build high rises in the area. “This hampered with old circular layout of the area and now it’s way too congested,” he adds.
Gone are the days when Whitefield, infamously known as the pensioner’s paradise, was home to chirping birds, jackals and sparrows.
Thirty-five-year-old Gopinath, who was born and raised in Whitefield, gets nostalgic recalling beautiful memories of swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Varthur Lake. One of largest freshwater lakes on the outskirts of Bengaluru, Varthur Lake was also home to varied species of aquatic life.
My brother and I used to accompany our mother to the lake whenever she had to wash clothes. Standing on the bank, we could clearly see the bottom of the pond. Now, it’s as though the water has turned into poison, says Gopinath.
The billowing smoke and froth from the polluted Belandur Lake, which further flows towards the Varthur Lake has completely polluted the water body. “Earlier, there was no dearth of water in Whitefield. Today, borewells as deep as 1,200 feet have also failed to yield any water. If this continues, the residents are likely to suffer from an impending water crisis,” Gopinath adds.
Eroding colonial heritage and legacy
The residents of Whitefield may possibly be holding on to the last vestibules of a colonial nostalgia that will be long forgotten in a few days.
Many old bungalows and timeworn landmarks like the Memorial Church and Whitefield Club facing the brunt of widespread commercialisation might be on the verge of losing out. A proposed road widening, which was resisted by the citizens of Whitefield, is a befitting example to the same.
The rich heritage of Whitefield is under constant threat. Though we are struggling to hold on to it, it’s a losing battle. The kind of development that shows no value and concern to our ancestral structures is not the kind I appreciate, says Sean, recalling how one of the inherited bungalows belonging to his grandmother faced the threat of demolition due to road widening recently.
Community groups and citizen activism
A legacy of active citizenry coupled with rampant changes has also ensured Whitefield has active citizen communities. These change agents often come together to address issues that bother their neighbourhood. Over the last few years, Whitefield Rising, a voluntary group of changemakers have been successful in raising concerns and demanding civic action in issues related to water, traffic, garbage, among other things.
I did not know of the concept of neighborhood activism until lately. But groups like Whitefield Rising can be instrumental in getting the attention of politicians to fix civic amenities for us. The key is to stand united in our demands. That way it’s difficult for them ignore the pleas of their potential vote banks, says Gopinath, who is also an active member of the Whitefield Rising group.
In an upcoming TEDx event, prominent residents, citizen activists and expert will discuss more about how the future of the locality can be secured.
Touted to become the single largest infotech cluster on the planet by 2020, Bengaluru houses about 20 lakh working IT professionals whose contributions have led to innovations, brought in better investments and increased revenues manifold.
Whitefield wouldn’t be left out in Bengaluru’s grand plan to revolutionise the global IT industry. The now concrete jungle has managed to create a flood of employment opportunities in the corporate sector, leading to the creation of a self-sufficient ecosystem, with malls, hospitals and schools.
Hence, from a self-sufficient Anglo Indian community to a fast changing landscape, Whitefield has had a long journey.
While the road ahead needs to be secured, there is possibly no replacement for the lush green forests and crystal-clear lakes that the region has lost. When I ask people what they miss about their life in Whitefield, Sean says, “The sense of freedom I enjoyed in the childhood years.”