Air of dignified grandeur

The emphasis is on symmetry, proportions, and linearity at Ballabrooie. By Meera Iyer

Manx, a Celtic language spoken in the Isle of Man, went extinct when the last native speaker died in the 1970s. Thanks to efforts to revive the language, today, there are a few hundred people who have learned to speak it. Did you know we have a small, tangible link to Manx in the heart of Bengaluru?

At the junction of Palace Road and Sankey Road stands the bungalow named Ballabrooie, which derives its name from the Manx words ‘balley’ meaning farmstead or home, and ‘brooie’ meaning by the banks of a river, or simply, by a river.

The man who named this house thus was John Garrett, whose family originally hailed from the farmstead of Ballabrooie in Sulby, in the Isle of Man. Garrett came to Bengaluru in 1839 as a Wesleyan missionary. Among other things, he was given responsibility of the Wesleyan printing press, one of the earliest in Bengaluru. The press churned out several books in English and Kannada, including a trilingual tome by Garrett himself titled The Bhagavat-Geeta, or Dialogues of Krishna and Arjoon in Sanskrit, Kannada and English. Garrett resigned from the ministry in 1858. The very same year, he started Central High School, the nucleus of what later became Central College. Later, he was also appointed Director of Public Instruction in Mysore State.

It was also in 1858 that he was granted a plot of land, on condition that he build “a good substantial bungalow suitable for the residence of a gentleman.” Thus was born Ballabrooie.

When Garrett died in 1893, the house was inherited by his son-in-law, the historian and epigraphist Benjamin Lewis Rice, who sold it to the Mysore government in 1897. From then on, Ballabrooie served as the official residence of the Dewans. This was the time when several eminent personalities visited and stayed here as guests, including Rabindranath Tagore, who worked on some of his poems while in Room No 5 here; his stay is commemorated with a plaque. Post-Independence, Ballabrooie was the official residence of several Chief Ministers until the late 1970s when it acquired a reputation for ill luck! It also housed the offices of the Department of Tourism. Today, it is a state guest house.

One could also say it is a stately guest house. The long driveway, the central porch, and the wide verandah all add a touch of stateliness to this bungalow, as does its setting in a large garden.

While the Ballabrooie in the Isle of Man was said to have been Gothic, Bengaluru’s Ballabrooie is distinctly classical in style: the emphasis is on symmetry, proportions, and linearity. The few concessions to embellishment are the fanlights over the doors and windows, and the vase-shaped balustrades between the Tuscan columns in the verandah. As Janet Pott in her book ‘Old Bungalows in Bangalore’ explains, these vase-shaped fittings were usually filled with sand for stability and were slotted into the railings with dowels.

In 2014, the government proposed razing Ballabrooie and replacing it with a legislators’ club. Outraged citizens immediately launched a Save Ballabrooie campaign.

Stiff opposition

The street marches, protest meetings and indignation led the government to drop the plan. In fact, in the 1970s, there had been a similar move to demolish the bungalow and use the vast compound, described as being ‘wasted’, to build a multi-storey building. Luckily, that plan too was dropped.

Although some incongruent changes have been made to it over the years – the original parapet has been replaced with a modern railing and the Tuscan columns’ small capitals have been supplanted by large blocks, for example – this heritage building still retains its air of dignified grandeur.

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