For those who regularly cross the Queens Road-Cunningham Road junction in the heart of the city, this stone building, halfheartedly bordering the road leading towards Shivaji Nagar, is not a rare sight. A few may even know that it’s called the Lady Jehangir Kothari Memorial Hall, but what marks it out as special is the fact that it is dedicated to a Pakistani woman who died in 1923 in Bangalore.
Goolbai, better known as Lady Jehangir, was the wife of Sir Jehangir Hormasji Kothari, a rich merchant of the Parsi community, who was born in Karachi. Sir Jehangir was famous for his philanthropic ways and was the first Indian from the provinces of the Punjab or Sindh to be knighted. A globetrotter, Sir Jehangir visited Bangalore with his wife as part of their south India tour in 1923. The journey ended on a tragic note with his beloved wife taking ill in Bangalore, where she breathed her last. She was interred at the Parsee Aramgah or burial ground in the city.
At that time, Bangalore only had a handful of Parsis. The Iranian Zoroastrians started migrating to Gujarat from their homeland Persia (now Iran) following the Arab invasion in the 8th century AD, says Yezdi N Unvalla, a member of the Bangalore Parsee Zoroastrian Anjuman, tracing the earliest days of the community in the country. "After his wife’s death, Sir Jehangir visited Bangalore again and decided to build a memorial in her name. He felt Bangalore’s Parsis need a place to get together and celebrate community functions," adds Unvalla. The hall today belongs to the Bangalore Parsee Zoroastrian Anjuman.
The distinctive feature of the building is its archaic Tudor architecture. Even the ceiling is made of granite slabs. Sir Jehangir, who was an unofficial world ambassador for the British Empire, had good contacts with the officials who were in charge of the Bangalore Cantonment. The construction of the hall started in 1931 and it was declared open in 1932. Today, the community pays tribute to the Kothari couple by celebrating Annual Club Day with a prayer ceremony.
"The building is now used for community functions and recreational purposes and is given on rent for conducting exhibitions and annual fairs," the Parsi association’s president Dinshaw Cawasji says.
Though the once tranquil place has now been engulfed by the expanding city, the community’s timely repairs have ensured that the decades-old building has withstood the vicissitudes of time.
Parsis arrived in Bangalore in view of increasing business prospects and settled in the Cantonment area by the end of 18th century. They maintained good relationship with the Europeans and the hall might have been built in old English Tudor style to suit their cultural taste. Bangalore Palace built by the Mysore royal family is another fine example of this style.
Dr. SK Aruni, Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Bangalore