“A little hard to believe, isn’t it? But Benjamine and Bhushan Oberoi have made this dream possible at Casa Cottage, a bed and breakfast heritage hotel, in Richmond Town.
In 2004, the couple bought an old house which was built in 1915. They wanted to restore it and convert it into a small hotel where people can relive memories of old Bangalore. The hotel has always been a dream for both of them. Benjamine, who came to study in the City 30 years ago from France, remembers how calm and less populated Bangalore used to be.”
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And an outdoor café- I made the Cottage my base during my stay
Years on a whim. The property had been abandoned for several years and it was in a state of severe dilapidation. It was originally built in 1915 when Bengaluru was home to a sizable British community of mid-level civil servants,and was known for years as ‘Mary Flanagan’s house. Apparently,Mary Flanagan was a British Woman who lived in the house until she was in her 80s,and was known for driving around town in a 1928 ford driven by a chauffeur who was in his 70s.
Benjamine and Bhushan bought the house from a descendant of Mary Flanagan’s, and they almost razed it- until, luckily, their builder said it could be saved. They preserved the exterior and completely renovated the interiors. The Oberois have done an excellent job of both retaining the property’s charm, and heritage value, while transforming it into a haven of comfort for guests. Though centrally-located , it is a tranquil sanctuary with a leafy garden and an outdoor café. I happily made it my home base during the week I was exploring the city.
Benjamine is not just passionate about preserving a slice of old Bangalore; she is just as passionate about making her guests feel as comfortable as possible. She goes out of her way to help her guests, even when their requests are unusual or difficult-such as the painter who was looking for holy trees, or the French woman working with NGO in Nepal who was looking for an international school for a Nepali boy.
The international schools were all too expensive,and the boy ended up living with the Oberois, going to school in Bengaluru and becoming a third son to them. Benjamine is also passionate about the non-profit work she does for several south Indian NGOs,and is a believer in change. ‘’people need to have heart in whatever they do…and things will change,’’she said.
RISHIKESH RAI AND S.V.L. Prasad were just two of the many passionate people I met in Bengaluru. My lunch guest at the Tai west End Hotel, Benjamine Oberoi, is yet another example of someone who exhibits the dynamism of the city and seems to effortlessly bridge old Bangalore and new Bengaluru.
Benjamine came to Bengaluru from France in 1983, on scholarship, to do PhD research in psychology. She met Bhushan Oberoi, a Punjabi hotelier from Delhi, who had been advised, back in 1979, to start his first restaurant in Bengaluru. They married, and have lived in the city ever since.
Together, Benjamine and Bhushan raised a family and opened a chain of restaurants in Bengaluru, including the well-known Café piccolo. More recently, they opened the Casa Piccola Cottage in Richmond Town. The Cottage is a delightful heritage guesthouse, with a history that spans the Bangalore to Bengaluru years.
Benjamine and Bhushan bought the heritage house about 10 years ago.
THE CASA COTTAGE HOTEL story is representative of a Bengaluru phenomenon: Two ‘’outsiders’’ with completely different backgrounds move to town, marry and restore a heritage property-both preserving a piece of municipal history and giving the property a new, active role to play in the life of the city. Whereas in other, more traditional parts of India, there is much more homogeneity, in Bengaluru ‘mash-ups’’ seem to be quite common.
Farheen, who works at the Taj West End Hotel, is a Muslim woman from Bombay married to a Rajput Hindu.Sudha, a young woman I met while waiting for breakfast at MTR is a Bangalorean Hindu married to a Punjabi Christian (though they have in common the fact that they have both worked at BPOs).
Before arriving in Bengaluru, I met a fellow travel blogger on Twitter, and then met up with her in person for lunch at the excellent coconut Grove restaurant on Church street. Freya breaks just about every stereotype you may have about Muslim women: she wears Jeans, has a short spiky haircut, works in social media and drove her motorcycle for eight months across india on a solo travel quest.
Isabel is a travel writer and blogger from Toronto (my home city) who now lives in Bengaluru. I met her first online,and then in person when she joined me for lunch at Koshy’s. At my hotel, I met two middle-aged British women who had come to Bengaluru to find the graves of their grandparents.