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Sunday, February 13, 2011

FROM THE LAND OF GOLD - Bangalore Mirror 13/2/2011
From the land of gold - Juliana Lazarus

Bridget White’s book Kolar Gold Fields: Down Memory Lane captures the essence of how a barren piece of land became a thriving township and an Anglo-Indian stronghold.....

When two people from Kolar Gold Fields get together, you can safely predict one thing: A talkathon. “Remember the Namakara hawker? And Chinaman John? Remember the Pound Parties in Buffalo Lodge? And how Sabu the jhatka man would say “Giddy up a ding dong...”

Bridget White has been a part of many such conversations that led to her blog And before she knew it, she had enough matter for a book! That’s what Bridget’s Kolar Gold Fields: Down Memory Lane is all about: A rambling conversation about the legends behind KGF, its people, its places. About how a barren piece of land became a thriving township, with varied nationalities like the English, Spanish, Germans, Italians and Irish living and growing together – that’s why KGF has been a traditional Anglo-Indian stronghold (see box) though most of the Europeans left after Independence.

Fresh memories
“It took me about two years to get the material together,” says Bridget, who was born in KGF and spent her early life there before moving to Bangalore permanently in 1976. But more than three decades later, the memories are as fresh as the smell of sodium cyanide when gold was being smelted in the mines. Of mountains coated with silicosis, of the uncertainty each time her father went down into the mines, of hearing whispers about the odd miner swallowing gold in an attempt to steal, of hearing a rumbling sound one night (it was a rock burst) and running out into the garden in sweaters and nighties.

She chuckles at the memory of the Namakara hawker (called so because he had a namo on his head!). “He would wear a black coat and white dhoti and had two men trailing behind carrying white bundles. He was a walking fancy store that sold everything from safety pins to underwear to nail polish and naphthalene balls,” says Bridget.

Then there was Chinaman John whose children had Chinese features but their mother’s Indian complexion. John would bring exquisite silk from China, sometimes in the form of cushion covers and table cloths and kimonos.

“Those were life’s simple pleasures,” sighs Bridget. And all that changed when John Taylor and Sons sold the mines to the government.“Everything fell through once the government took over,” says Bridget. “Trade unions became very strong and the mines soon became non-viable which is why the government closed down the mines in 2001.”

Shadows from the past
KGF is now a place of historical interest where song-and-dance sequences are shot for films. It’s also an educational hub but despite that it remains a pale shadow of its former self. Cyanide dumps form about 20 per cent of its total area, leading to a fairly high incidence of asthma, wheezing, TB and other respiratory illnesses among residents.

With mining no longer an option, more than 7,000 people have left to find work in Bangalore. “The mines are now filled with water and there’s slurry on the mountains surrounding KGF. According to an Australian company, even if they get 50g of gold from a tonne of slurry, it would be viable to start mining,” says Bridget.

In fact, the union cabinet cleared a proposal last year to revive the mines after a parliamentary standing committee report that at least 30 lakh tonnes of gold reserves lie unexploited in the area. The revival may take some time but till then, we have Bridget’s book.

For copies of the book, email Bridget at or call 9845571254, 9844044236.

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