Saturday, December 29, 2012

Policing the Urban Space

In a City, some Urban spaces are always safe, others are not. Sometimes, the urban space becomes a temporal marketplace and the city administrators have to judge whether it will be a safe place for the public or if things may go "out of control".  If they anticipate unsafe conditions, they ensure that the Police will be present there when they are needed. However, the police exercise control in different ways and the urban spaces extend from being 'spaces as containers' to being 'spaces of power' *. I look at one such urban space in Bangalore - the Bull temple road which is pedestrianised for two days for a cultural festival around the Bull temple at Basavanagudi.

The Groundnut Fair (Kadlekai Parishe) that took place this year on December 10th and 11th had all the familiar elements – the Groundnuts, the Vendors, the Public and the Police. We had interviewed a few Police officers on duty during the Parishe and I reproduce here excerpts from the interview:

How many people from the Police department are present here during the two-day Parishe?
Approximately 200-300 police officers. Some of the officers are here in uniform and others are in mufti (plain clothes).

What are the duties of the Police officers during the Kadlekai Parishe?
There is a lot of crowd during the fair which means many crimes can occur without anyone’s notice. Petty crimes like chain snatching can occur without the victim’s knowledge. Sometimes, vehicles get stolen. We need to keep a check on the crowds coming in and out of the temple and also make it easier for them to move about in the Fair. In case of fire emergencies, we need to make arrangements to have it extinguished, get the fire department to respond immediately and so on. In case someone gets hurt we need to make sure they are taken to the hospital quickly and safely.

What are the arrangements made by your department for the Kadalekai Parishe?
At some places, barricades need to be put so that there is no vehicle interference with the pedestrians. We depute more officers on those roads where there are likely to be more people entering the Bull temple road. Basically, we try to minimise crime problems and traffic congestion.

Which police stations in the city are involved?
The South division of the Police department has three sub-divisions. There is the Jayanagar sub-division, the Chamrajpet sub-divison and the Banashankari sub-division. Each of these sub-divisions has seven stations under it. There are officers from about 21 stations here for the two days.

How is the work distributed to the officers?
There are both the Traffic police and the Law and Order police. The Traffic police supervise the Bull temple road and ensure that it is a pedestrian zone for these two days, not permitting vehicular traffic to enter from any of the connecting roads or from either ends of Bull temple road. The Law and Order police look after the internal movement of people within the Fair and their safety, between these two ends.

How are the zones demarcated for supervision? 
You will notice the row of barricades near the restaurant Halli thindi and another near Ramakrishna ashram. There are such barricades provided all along the Bull Temple road to demarcate the zones for supervision. For instance, to mark Hanumanthnagar police limits, there is a line of barricades and then from the next barricade another police station takes over the responsibility.

There are several police in uniform (although there are plainclothes policemen too) to signal to the public that they can spend their time at the Fair within a safe environment and to simultaneously signal to the unsocial elements that any crime or wrong act will be caught immediately. In these 'spaces of power', on the one hand, the city empowers the public and the vendors who work within the law and on the other it controls the users of the space who may have the tendency to break the law to do only that which society finds acceptable.

* Koskela, Hille. "‘The gaze without eyes’: video-surveillance and the changing nature of urban space." Progress in Human Geography 24.2 (2000): 243-265.

(Interviewer: Rakshitha K.S.)

Related Posts:
Groundnut Fair in Bangalore city
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Groundnut Fair and the Temple Priest

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Groundnut Fair and the Temple Priest

The Groundnut Fair is both a religious and a cultural festival that takes place every year on the Bull temple road in Bangalore and brings groundnut growers and traders from several villages in Karnataka to the city. We started to interview the Groundnut vendors, the Residents of Basavanagudi, the Traffic police and others to understand more about the Fair. I reproduce here a short interview with the Head Priest of the Bull Temple.

When was the Bull temple built?
The temple was built around 1537 A.D. It is said to be built by Kempegowda during his rule.

Why was this temple built, why here in Basavanagudi?
The idol of the Nandi (Bull) in this temple is said to have been that of “udbhava”. They say that the idol was always there, Kempegowda just built the temple. There is another legend that says Lord Nandi appeared in Kempegowda’s dreams and asked him to build a temple in his worship. The idol is 12 ft high, 20 ft in length. It is the second largest Nandi idol in south of India, the first being in Lepakshi, in Andhra Pradesh.

What about the legend of River Vrishabhavathi flowing under the idol?
If one looks closely at the idol, one can see that the right leg of lord Nandi rests on a veena (the musical instrument). The veena rests on a lotus flower. We know that the lotus flower grows only in water. This water is said to be the water from Vrishabhavathi river. It is said to rise from below the idol. I haven’t been a witness to it, neither has my father or grandfather who’ve been around for around 80 years now .

How did the Ganesha temple come to be? Was it a part of the Nandi temple?
The usual custom is that before starting anything good like say entering a new house, there is usually a ganesha idol placed and worshipped for success and prosperity. Similarly with this temple. Before the Bull temple was built there was probably a Ganesha temple built .

What are the special events at the temple during the Kadlekai Parishe?
Early in the morning there is the Panchamrutha abhisheka. Also, a Rudrabhisheka which involves abhisheka with milk. The nandi idol is totally covered with flowers. On the Monday that the Parishe begins on, in the evening there is “Nandi kolu”.  At 11 pm, there is the Mahamangalarthi.

What is the temple’s involvement in the Parishe?
The temple allocates the space for the vendors outside the temple entrance and along the Bull temple road. The contract for collecting the rent for the space is given out as a tender. The MUZRAI department (Department of Religious Endowment) plays a major role in organising the Parishe. They send us extra staff to handle the parishe.

The support required from various fields is taken into account by the chief executive officer. He writes out letters to different departments which includes the Police force, the Municipal corporation, Ambulance and medicine, Generator and Emergency power supply etc. They all co-operate and work together. The local politicians direct the police force to co-ordinate the event. The Municipal authority (BBMP) plays its role in cleaning of the streets during and after the Fair. Because there is a large crowd visiting the temple during the parishe, we need to add more priests to help maintain the place. Usually I call upon people I know and some from within my family too.

What about the revenue for the temple from the Parishe? What do the vendors pay?
The vendors need to pay some 200-300 rupees per day to the appointed person who has been awarded the tender. The temple gets around 10-15,000 rupees from it.

Do vendors like the coconut seller or the one who manages the shoe stand within the temple premises need to pay a rent for the space?
Yes, it’s more of a yearly contract though. This space is also auctioned and the highest bidder gets it. The shoe or chappal stand itself generates an income of about Rs.2,00,000/- per year.

What are the other roles that the MUZRAI department plays in supporting the temple?
Mainly, all the funds that the temple collects during the Parishe goes to a dedicated account of the temple with the MUZRAI department. They take care of everything from cleaning, maintenance, making new spaces, repairing old structures, granting salaries to the temple employees etc. The Priests and the maintenance staff at the temple are paid their salaries by the MUZRAI department. If say, a temple’s funds are insufficient for it’s own upkeep, then the Muzrai department can actually reach out to another temple’s funds and fund this temple. If any repairs to the old temple structure or new spaces need to be planned, the MUZRAI department works with the Archaeological survey of India to prepare the necessary plans and execute the work .

Interviewer: Rakshitha K.S.

Related Posts:
Groundnut Fair in Bangalore city
Peanut festival in Bangalore
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Friday, December 07, 2012

Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan

I had been walking in Chickpete for some time now. It was nearing lunch time and I had unknowingly started to read the nameboards at just above the normal line of vision, looking for a place to eat. It had to be the usual – reasonably clean but with old-world charm. That’s what one looked for in a bazaar precinct.

I wasn’t going to eat in a spotlessly clean, new type restaurant. Saw a ‘Gokul Lodge’. It seemed old alright, but old AND neglected. It was dark in there and not so clean-looking. I thought I wasn’t going to find my place today. Anyways, I kept walking. The purpose was just that, to walk the chickpete area of old Bangalore with its large expanse of market activity – an area originating from the time the city began, being one of the two main nuclei in Bangalore, the other one being the Cantonment area.

As I walked further, I saw this board Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan. The name was familiar of course. There was one at Malleswaram, another of the old Bangalore localities, a restaurant we had often frequented. It had the nicest neer dosa (with coconut milk). This had to be the same. It would be good.

Going into the restaurant, I found that here time had moved so much slower than on the street just outside it or on the many streets amidst which it was nestled. The place was quiet, not so many people about. I was early for lunch perhaps. I picked a table so I could see the restaurant and its entrance the way I felt like, with plenty of space in front of me, a bit of the light from the street coming in and the lights inside just enough so as to not drown out the natural light.

I ordered the food and waited, as I looked around me. It was better than I had expected. It actually had rosewood tables and chairs. The table top had been changed to a smooth, black granite top and the chair seats had a white, worn-out laminate, where probably canework had once been.

In front of me, I saw a brass nameplate that said ‘Special room’. This was the typical Family room that restaurants of old had always had. It had a five foot high wooden partition, partly glass. You had your privacy and yet were not too separated from the others. The flooring was the old checkerboard pattern – black and white marble squares. It had been a while since I last saw that. The washbasins located on a side wall of this large hall space had mirrors with teakwood frames.

The ceilings were high and supported by I-beams and I-sections. Just above the serving counter, where the menu was written in large bold letters were large photo-frames. There was one set of pictures of deities – the Raja Ravi Varma prints and another set a little away, of the founders of the hotel, these in black and white.

It had been a discovery, this Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan. There weren’t so many in the city anymore. It was like going into a time machine. After I had eaten my dosa and had my coffee, I got up to leave, knowing that I could come back into this art deco time machine anytime I wanted to and they even served you the finest filter coffee, as you traced the city back in time!