And so Deccan Traverses does come as a rude shock. For, the Bangalore that I, or a million others, fell in love with, or the Bangalore the old establishment know as Bangalore, or indeed even the Bangalore that the British created is not what it used to be.
In their preface, the authors write that "there is little that is natural in Bangalore. Almost everything is by design. The lakes are agricultural tanks...trees are introductions from across the world, plants are hybrids. More importantly, we realise that the eye, like other elements of the land, is also cultivated".
The authors begin by mentioning a group of European travellers in the 1800s who refer to the heart of the South Indian peninsula where Bangalore is situated as a very naked country. They were amazed by its open horizons. To this day, a drive into the outskirts will reveal what perhaps Bangalore must have been like—the flat country with clumps of trees and incredible rock formations, the line of hills that still exists.
How then did Bangalore come to be the place it is now? Deccan Traverses addresses this question in a manner that very much resembles the geology of the place. Strata by strata, they lay before us the makings of Bangalore. From Kempegowda-I’s vision of his realm to the bound hedge that Cornwallis’s army penetrated to William Bentincks’ order to centralise European regiments in a new cantonment.
And, as you turn the pages, you see the story unfold. For, with amazing dexterity and sound insights, the authors marry the history of the making of Bangalore with the shape of its terrain. And perhaps herein lies the conundrum that is inherent in the book.
The authors accomplish magnificently what they set out to create: Deccan Traverses is about the landscape of Bangalore; but it is also about "the power of the landscape to determine the nature of a place and the eye through which it is seen".
But do not mistake it for a biography of the city, for this isn’t that sort of a book. There isn’t enough trivia or anecdotal memories to excite the casual reader. And as much as it is visually exciting, some of the mappings again require design orientation to be able to generate comprehension or even delight. Rather like the city itself, this is a book that is the result of a cultivated eye. And so its readers will have to be drawn from that echelon.