A longtime Bengaluru resident recalls her growing years surrounded by family and nature in an old bungalow once owned by her grandfather and grandmother.

The Pre-Le Meridien era Memories of an old Bengaluru mansion that stood on Sankey Rd
news History Friday, May 24, 2019 - 18:24

And so, Le Meridien is going. I wonder what will come up in its place. Whatever it is, I am sure it can never be a match for The Links, the grand and gracious building which was a part of my growing years.

The Links was almost a twin of what is now called the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). Once upon a time, before it was so aesthetically converted, the NGMA was the grand home of the Manickavelu family. The two buildings stood back to back. While Manickavelu Mansion faced Palace Road, The Links stood on Sankey Road, facing the Golf Course.

The Manickavelu Mansion had become dilapidated after a dispute in the family. But once the government took it over and the artists got to work on it, it got a new and beautiful life. Sadly, unlike its twin, The Links turned into rubble in the late 1960s and the large plot on which it stood was parceled out and sold by its owners. My grandfather MA Sreenivasan took The Links on rent in the late 1940s when he returned home to Bengaluru after working for a while as the Diwan of Gwalior. He stayed there for the next 20 years. It’s likely that his stay in a Gwalior palace had given him a taste for palatial bungalows. Besides, he had a large family of seven children, other dependent adults and a growing brood of grandchildren all of whom were constantly in and out of the house. What clinched the matter is perhaps the fact that he could just walk across the quiet road in front of his house to the lovely Bangalore Golf Course for his daily game.

In the 1950s, the part of Sankey Road which ran in front of The Links was broad, peaceful and ideal for cycling and walking. Very few vehicles passed by that way. The ministers’ houses on that road came up much later on an open plot which was our playground then. The Bangalore Golf Course was an open green space with no barriers or nets to keep the public out.

It was a very quiet area. Sometimes eerily so. After dark, Cunningham Road which abutted the other side of our house was so quiet and deserted that scared pedestrians and cyclists would whistle loudly as they passed through, to keep away the ghosts! The Links was an enormous two-storied building with an impressive portico in front and huge verandahs curving around the house. The high-ceilinged rooms were spacious with alcoves, bay windows and French doors. Each room had a different elaborately designed cement floor. The “ballroom” upstairs had wooden flooring which glowed when polished. The main staircase too was made of wood. The bathrooms had tubs and ceramic tiling, something that was unheard of in those days.

The property was huge. The drive leading from the gate to the building was itself at least half-a-kilometer long. The house, with its tall Grecian pillars and impressive portico and verandah, stood surrounded by a couple of acres of spacious lawns and huge trees. In one corner of the property was a tennis court which was always in need of maintenance. A private house now stands there. Closer to the main house was a wooden slatted “summer house” which was used as a garden nursery. Behind the house, separated from the main garden by a compound wall, stood a row of 10 sturdy servants’ quarters, stables, cowsheds and spacious garages for cars. That space has now been turned into apartment blocks.

Architecturally, The Links was almost identical to Manickavelu Mansion. The same impressive portico and wide verandahs, the same colourful cement flooring and balconies. Mount Carmel College which is just down the road has similar architectural features and so did the building next to it which was pulled down to make way for the Shangri-La hotel.

No one seemed to know the history of The Links. I for one, could never find out who built it or when. Or who planted those gigantic Java fig and rain trees which were already tall trees when we moved in. Was it built on a graveyard as some said? Was it built by an American? Was it part of the palace complex? Of course when we lived there as children, none of us pondered over such questions. For us, The Links was just our grandfather’s house presided over by my beautiful grandmother. A big home with large rooms filled with uncles and aunts, a blind great-grandmother and our band of cousins who would descend on the house every summer.

It was a bustling house replete with the aromas of Indian cooking, poojas and festivities, big family gatherings and dinner parties. My brother was born in one of those rooms and my aunt Lakshmi got married in the huge hall with the ceiling-to-floor length mirror. The only link we had with the building’s colonial past was Antony, who lived in the servants’ quarters at the back. He had worked as a cook and butler for the last white inhabitants of the bungalow but in his new avatar, he was my grandfather’s Man Friday. Since he was not allowed into my orthodox grandmother’s kitchen, he was given a place to cook in another part of the house. And it was there that he would whip up delectable meringues, trifle puddings and brandy snaps. The chatter of our colourful Indian lives had driven away all vestiges of that colonial past and it was only his food and stories of the former residents which brought them alive for us.

My grandfather’s parties were attended by the who’s who of Bengaluru and my grandmother’s grand Krishna Jayanthi celebrations were all hosted in the large party rooms downstairs. My grandfather’s cows and buffaloes occupied the horse stables as well as the cow sheds. In the holidays, we climbed every tree in the garden and played catch on the sprawling lawns.

In the late 1960s, my grandfather moved out to his own house and The Links was demolished by its owner. Even today as I wait to pass through Sankey Road, usually packed with vehicles, I try to peer and count the number of trees still standing in the property. The Java fig is still there and so are a couple of big gulmohur and rain trees. Will they survive the next round of demolition and building, I wonder?

If only the trees could talk. What stories they would have had to tell.

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