From the early 1990’s the character of Bangalore began to change. It is difficult for most post 1995 residents of Bangalore to understand what the old Bangalore was. In 1986, when my wife and I moved in, the old Bangalore was still alive. However, setting aside the garden city feature of Bangalore, what changed faster than ever was the character of the people of Bangalore and the Real Estate business model. As I told you in Part 1 of this series on Sales, in the days prior to the early 90’s the competition among the Real Estate Developers was very friendly, almost like a friendly match between two or more teams. We always felt that there was place for everyone and there was no need for nastiness.
That changed in the early 1990’s. In those days big business was about to move from Kolkatta ( old Calcutta) to other parts of India and especially Bangalore. We often forget that Kolkatta was the hub of big business till the early and mid 90’s. Finally, when business couldn’t survive in Kolkatta, plans were on to move to Mumbai, Delhi and to the South, especially Bangalore. Bangalore was everyone’s favourite. Developers began to plan for the arrival of these Corporate entities into the city and five huge ( in reference to what was available then) commercial buildings were being developed in the heart of today’s Central Business District ( CBD) by the same architectural team and amazingly I do not believe anyone among the five developers was privy to the competition being designed in the same office. That, in itself was the start of subterfuge, which was alien to Bangalore. Then, almost out of the blue came out the first building opposite All Saints Store, in around 1988/89 then the second at the end of the main part of Brigade Road, then our Barton Center on M G Road, then two other buildings, one behind Webb’s petrol bunk on M G Road and the last and the most aggressive was the building at the intersection of Cubbon Road and Dickenson Road. My ( Remember I was working in SI still) Joint Managing Director, to whom the Bangalore office reported, was stunned that the Architect, who was the brother of the other Joint Managing Director of SI, did not tell him that this was happening. Remember, in those days, the outside person who advised a builder on property and its viability was the Architect. Therefore, just like you spoke to your lawyer, you spoke to your architect. So, my man felt let down. Of course, my man who was from the North of India and settled in the South for about 15 years when this happened, quickly realised that the rules of the game had changed. Bangalore was becoming sly and cunning because there was money coming in to the city – the likes of which we had never seen in town before. He had paid more than a Kings Ransom for the Barton Center property, and he did not know of the competition that he was going to face. Most importantly, the Barton Center development was complicated and was a 65 year lease, till 2051, at which time the property would return to the Land Lords. Never before had Bangalore seen a building that was not built on a free hold land or worse on a land that had at least a 99 year lease. What was this 65 year lease?
Now, all I was told in 1988 was , ” Koshy, here is the story, listen carefully. Study the whole project and go out and sell”. As any 25/26 year old guy, I was excited as anything. (I did not realise the problems of the Lease till much later). I read about the migration from Kolkatta and then there was news of the other virus (in later parts of future Blogs I will explain why I refer to this migration as a virus) that hit us at Bangalore – the arrival of loads of businesses from Mumbai ( Bombay). In those days, Mumbai was THE Business Capital of India. Delhi was just the political capital. There was a tinier version of Reliance ( Only Vimal), The Wadias, Tatas and the film industry and the dreaded underworld. Now, at this point ( early to mid 90’s ) property prices were very high in Mumbai and low in the South. Bangalore was the strongest market, followed by Madras and then Kochi/ Hyderabad/ Trivandrum. For some reason Hyderabad took a very long time to catch up with Madras and Bangalore. Anyway, I am digressing. People found it amazingly profitable to sell their small apartments and mid size dwellings in Mumbai and come to Bangalore where they could get an apartment that was double the size they lived in at Mumbai, buy a car ( the Maruti was moving from the Maruti 800 to the Maruti 1000. ) Even after all that they still had money to put in the bank and party. The smarter ones began to get into business in Bangalore. This was also the time when the Bangalore underworld became the second largest underworld in India, after Mumbai.
So, as the Real Estate scene got murkier but more lucrative, the fellows developing these five buildings, I mentioned earlier in this piece, began to realise that they had got it all wrong viz-a-viz the Kolkatta businesses. They had no intention of buying into these buildings in the CBD area but found it more lucrative to buy larger parcels out of the CBD, where they put up large plants, offices, residences etc. The fear of failure began to creep up on each of us handling sales of our premier buildings. The building opposite All Saints had the first mover advantage and was run by a very shrewd set of people at that time. The building on the junction of Cubbon and Dickenson roads was being developed by a team that was cash rich and the building looked the smartest on paper. The bottom of Brigade Road building was one of the first malls. So, the fight was about to start. The problem we had with Barton Center was the damn lease. In the India of those days you bought Real Estate to pass on to your grand children and they to theirs and so on. So, in this case, it kind of ended early as sixty five years meant maybe your great grand children could get the property but not enjoy it, what then?
What happened next will come to you in the following few parts of this story, as I saw it, of a changing Bangalore….
Note: I have tried to avoid specific names as many of the characters are still active. Comments are welcome.