In September 1998, almost a quarter of a century ago now, a legislation passed by the Karnataka government galvanised the citizens of an entire city into extraordinary and unprecedented action. It was one of those watershed moments, when that amorphous amassment of people, passions and priorities that has earned the right to call itself a city pauses, briefly, in its ceaseless pulling in a hundred different directions at once, and coalesces spontaneously – and seemingly irrationally – into a single-pointed, high intensity laser beam, intent on achieving a common goal.

What made this coming together of Bangalore particularly remarkable was what was at stake – not public health or safety, not a lack of water or electricity, not garbage pile-ups or potholed roads or traffic congestion (all chronic Bangalore afflictions), but 32 acres – or 44 acres, depending on how you looked at it – of a park.

The people’s protests of 1998 were against the government’s arbitrary ‘denotification’ of those 32 acres, a move that stripped that parcel of land of the protection it had hitherto enjoyed under the Karnataka Government Parks (Preservation) Act of 1975, and laid it open to appropriation and redevelopment by the government and other influential parties.

What was also remarkable was the manner of the coming together. The issue brought thousands of ordinary and celebrity citizens out of their homes and into the streets, and inspired journalists across the spectrum to lay aside their differences and back the public against the establishment. The protests went on for weeks and weeks, but never crossed the line from civil engagement into violence, or from constitutional, legal battles into vigilantism.

It is important to clarify that this was no ordinary park. This was a historic, then 128-year-old park, one of two heritage lung spaces of the city. It must also be revealed, right at the outset, that despite all their sweat, toil and tears, the citizens did not succeed in persuading the government to roll back the legislation. This story, after all, is an Indian story, which characteristically takes long and roundabout routes to a messy denouement that neither side totally loves but grudgingly accepts for the interim.

In that sense, that 1998 episode wasn’t what you might call a ‘victory’ for the city, but one would be hard-pressed to call it a defeat, either. For that kind of inflection point in a city’s history does far more than impact its future. In a million big and little ways, it also rewires its imagination.

With the Save Cubbon Park protests, a specific idea of what it meant to be part of this particular city took root, and a bar to live up to had been set. Which begs the question: what makes Cubbon Park so important, so meaningful and so beloved? More importantly, what makes it so central – for that word comes up a bizarre number of times when the Park is being referenced – to the city?

Well, there is its physical location, for one. Historically, the Park lay at the intersection of two entirely different ways of life – the Bangalore Cantonment, administered by the British, and the Bengaluru Pettah, aka City, administered by the Maharaja of Mysore – making it a no-man’s land between oppressor and oppressed, soldiers and civilians, foreigners and natives, tea-drinkers and coffee-drinkers, largely church- and mosque-goers and largely temple goers, Tamil- and Urdu-speakers and Kannada-speakers (the elite on both sides, then as now, spoke English). After Independence, when City and Cantonment were merged to create the new capital city of Mysore State, the Park became a staging area for wary rapprochement, a safe space betwixt MG Road and KG Road.

By and by, it also became the state’s administrative centre, the nucleus around which the four pillars of democracy swirled. The Judiciary, in the form of the Karnataka High Court, settled into the Attara Kacheri, the state’s original administrative offices, its grounds stretching almost a kilometre along the Park’s western periphery. Both houses of Legislature and the entire state cabinet moved into the Vidhana Soudha across the road. The Executive occupied the rather unimaginatively named Multi-Storeyed Building beside the Soudha. As for the Fourth Estate, it not only scattered itself in various locations around the Park’s boundaries but also, crossing the imaginary lines between competing publications, met each evening to trade yarns and hot tips at the Press Club inside the Park.

And yet, amid all the chaos that surrounded it, the Park offered oases of silence and birdsong and dappled shade to those who needed it.

Never entirely fenced about in its 152-year-old history, the Park became Bangalore’s meeting place, sanctuary, and thoroughfare – a place the city went to and went through.

It was thus, over the years, organically and effortlessly, that Cubbon Park became central to the Bangalorean heart. A welcoming buffer zone under an open, liberal sky, a capacious green sink with an ability to subsume not only carbon dioxide but also a diversity of ideas and opinions, the Park has always been a space that carries in itself the very DNA of the city that Kempegowda built. And that’s why this Bangalore institution, built of equal parts nostalgia, habit, and pure love, is the hero of this book.

Excerpted with permission from Cubbon Park: The Green Heart of Bengaluru, Roopa Pai, Speaking Tiger Books.