by Takshak Pai
As students of Manipal University (MU) set out for the end semester break in late 2016, rumours were rife of a drastic change in scenery at the erstwhile Kamath Circle (KC). It wasn’t until they returned that official news of the area getting revamped began to quickly make the rounds.
“Kamath Circle is history, Student Plaza to come up in its place” – read the official announcement on the MU Facebook page on January 6, 2017, confirming all speculations. The last remnants of Kamath Canteen, famous for its food but even more so for the symbolic “No Squatting” sign on its doorstep, were subsequently taken down two days later.
The demolition and replacement of structures in and around KC, which had seen many first-of-its-kind events in Manipal, intertwined with some of the campus’ weirder moments, signaled the end of an era. Plans for the new Plaza, widely shared by University authorities, indicate a much more expansive use of space, also leading to the tearing down of the basketball court and the building that housed the ATM and the MIT gymnasium.
When asked about student concerns in relation to heritage being replaced, MIT Director GK Prabhu said, ‘’I am quite aware of the sensitiveness and attachment the alumni and existing students have with the place. But I want to tell you that the existing structure was not safe, especially during the rainy seasons. We looked into the structural stability, and the recommendation came that no, this is not the right place to have it. We deliberated on this for a very long time, with the Student Council, with my management, with people working there, and everybody said, if you are going for a better structure, let us go for it. Discussions were on for 2 years. So, it was not an immediate decision.’’
Initial construction work for the plaza is in full swing, with foundations being laid. Not everyone, though, seems to be on the same page about the decision.
For some of the shopkeepers at the Circle, life seems to have taken a sharp turn ever since the changes. They have been relocated to the basement area of the MIT Food Court until the construction of the plaza is complete.
"There is no business here at all. We are not happy. The students who used to frequently visit our shops don’t do so anymore," said Jyothi, who runs Krishna Stores with her husband, Kitta Kulal. Pointing to a huge stack of new notebooks, she adds that not one has been sold ever since the start of the semester, a painful reminder of their new situation, according to the couple. ‘’We have to sit here till 10 in the night silently and there is nothing to do here. But this is our only source of livelihood and there is nothing else," added Kitta Kulal
Ravindra, the familiar face of SVS Tailors, shared the same views. "We don’t feel that this setup is right for us. Jai Vittal (Estate Manager of the University) did visit us and mention that we would get shops in the new plaza but also said that the rent would be higher. A meeting will take place soon,’’ said the tailor, adding that with a long list of bills, things didn’t look good for him.
When contacted by The Manipal Journal, Jai Vittal declined to comment on the meeting or anything related to the plaza.
It wasn’t just the shopkeepers, though, who voiced concerns over the sudden shift. The central area around the Circle, previously prominently used by student clubs for ticket sales and promotions, faced the brunt as well. Although space for such activities has now been allotted outside the MIT Food Court, club volunteers didn’t seem too pleased. “Info desks at the Food Court are not working out as well as they used to for KC since mostly only first years come here. There was more of a crowd at KC, but now the response is pretty low. The demolition is certainly one of the reasons,’’ said Rohan, a volunteer for the MIT Astronomy Club.
Where Kamath Canteen stood, now stands a mixture of rubble and dust. While students continue to be skeptical about the plaza, it remains to be seen if the finished product elicits a more positive response.
Republished with permission from The Manipal Journal.