Jalahalli is a locality in the Northern part of Bengaluru where my family stayed for a brief period until I finished my graduation in Yelahanka. Being involved in sports, languages, music, travelling and so many other things along with regular college, some of the busiest days of my late teens were spent here.
On a lighter note, our family lived with a confused identity for all the years spent at Jalahalli. We were surrounded by employees of BEL and HMT in majority, and none in our family worked at either of these organizations. More often, we struggled to decide which side to take when we had friends from both these companies sitting on either side of a discussion table 😀
The BEL sports ground was one of our favorite places, where I accompanied my father for his evening walks and my brother for his hockey matches, while catching up on conversations with some of the who’s who of Indian hockey. The Ganesha temple in the BEL colony was one of the go-to places when my family wanted a shot of calmness, not in praying but by simply soaking in the tranquility of the silent atmosphere.
The HMT sports complex, HMT hospital, HMT theater, HMT employees’ quarters and the HMT shopping complex were less just concrete structures and more like emotions.
A racing heart while entering the ‘Jalahalli Airforce station’ would calm down only after a plate of parathas from the air force canteen and some tasty samosas and Sondesh at the Bengali sweet meat stall at Gangamma circle. Catching up with friends mostly happened on the new-BEL road or at Malleswaram.
Well, Jalahalli is a place which reflected the importance of having a friendly neighborhood. Even when any of us had to stay alone at home, there was always someone from the neighborhood checking on our safety and sharing food with us. The months of yuletide were especially memorable because the carol singers came to all houses and we all made merry together.
We left Jalahalli and thus, North Bengaluru to finally come one full circle by making South Bengaluru our forever home (where we currently reside at).
HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), Asia’s largest and India’s first aerospace establishment was founded and is headquartered in Bangalore. If you want to walk down this journey of how aviation industry has evolved in India, a visit to the HAL Aerospace Museum, India’s first aviation museum located at the HAL premises is highly recommended. From the first aircraft, Harlow PC to be assembled at its stables to manufacturing the most modern helicopters, planes and equipment for present day requirements of the Indian airfare, navy, railways and space research, HAL’s journey has been a long one. One is bound to get amused in another world by taking a walk between vintage planes, flight simulators, mock ATC and all things associated in this subject of fantasy at the museum hall. Now, this place leads me to my next destination: The IISc (Indian Institute of Science).
That morning, I had ordered a plate of idlis at this little restaurant on the IISc campus. Just like any other day at that restaurant, the environment was abuzz with the chitter chatter of the people I was surrounded by. A typical scene on any given day includes the best scientists of India and abroad discussing new experiments over a plate of food in what is one of the premier research institutes in the country! Irony has it that similar discussions happened under the same roof, sometime in history. But back then, the discussions were about something more strategic and destructive. It was right here that a bunch of people discussed a war plot. What is now the top-of-the-notch science and technology institution in India, served as a hub for maintenance and repairs of the aircrafts during World-War II.
In the late 1930s, a factory meant for automobile maintenance was setup by an industrialist named Walchand Hirachand in the present day IISc campus. History has it that on his way to China, Hirachand chanced upon a meeting with William D. Pawley who was attached to the Intercontinental Aircraft Corporation of New York, an American aircraft exporter. This connection lead to the procurement of the necessary tools and equipment from the US to setup an aircraft production line in India. It was in December 1940, with funds from the Mysore state, the Hindustan Aircraft Private Limited came into being. The plan was to manufacture the Harlow trainer, Hawk fighter and the Vultee attack bombers at this factory. However, this required huge manpower that was trained in Aeronautics which lead to the establishment of the department of Aeronautical engineering.
The structure that housed the aeronautical engineering department was designed by German architect Otto Koenigsberger. Otto Koenigsberger was a young Jew who had fled his country during the Nazi regime and was later in time, employed as the government architect of the erstwhile Mysore state. His architectural design is an amalgamation of European and traditional Indian styles and can also be seen in the present-day metallurgical department and the hostel office on the IISc campus along with many structures across India. Talking about the aeronautical engineering building- it is an oblong structure with high ceilings and narrow corridors that integrated natural climate control. He has also designed the closed-circuit wind Tunnel, the first of its kind in India and hydrogen plant among other things that are associated with aircrafts. With all the technical back up from IISc, it was in 1941 that Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL) assembled the first aircraft in India: A Harlow PC-5.
Meanwhile, the threat posed by Imperial Japan loomed large in the on-going World War II because of which there was a need by the British Royal Air Force to boost its military hardware supplies in Asia. With all likelihood, HAL was most suitable as a base for the South East Asia Command of the allied forces for servicing their aircrafts. Hence, all the aircraft manufacturing plans in India were abandoned to support the repair and overhaul services of the American aircrafts and the factory was eventually taken over by the US Army Air Forces in 1943. This led to rapid expansion in the facilities and became the 84th Air depot for overhaul and repair of American aircrafts during WWII. The very same hydrogen plant on the IISc premises was used as a loading dock to supply hydrogen for the American aircrafts. Later in 1964, the factory was taken over by the Government of India and has morphed into the modern-day Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in its present-day location. However, the original Aeronautical engineering department continues to contribute enormously towards research and has its own little airstrip on the present day IISc campus.
As I finished my plate of idlis, I wondered how unassuming I was. This deceptively functional place had just served my meal that had just been cooked inside a hydrogen plant that powered the military aircrafts during WWII.