Thursday, October 23, 2008

Change or no change?

As I made my way out from the airport, I made a mental note of the fact that I should brace myself for the changes. Well, I had not visited India for the last three years, and all that I could gain about India was from the different websites and inputs from my friends who had traveled back home during this period. There is always a sense of apprehension and fear as you prepare to face what you do not want to face. There is a fixed image of the country in your mind, and for heaven's sake, you want to see it that way. You want to see certain changes, and at the same time, you do not want to see a wholesale of them. Life is strange in the sense that you want to adapt to the changes but without the knowledge that you are actually reacting to the change.

I walked out on the road with not a trace of unfamiliarity. They were the same roads, the same muddy pools of water, and the cracks on the roads did not breed any sense of contempt from my side. The waywardness of life did not stump me, for India is the place where the uncertainties in life somehow help you find a firm footing. People are beset with a lot of problems, yet, manage to find the right solutions to move ahead. This certainly is one of the greatest characteristics of the people of India. I sat as a pillion with my father maneuvering (Googled the word, but still unsure about the spelling!) the bike as though he was trying to escape some sort of meteors in a sci-fi movie. Initially, it was scary, but after a point, you realize that this is the only way to beat the traffic here. At all times, the travel seems unsafe, and you feel it is some sort of miracle once you reach the destination safely. But, actually, you realize that there is nothing miraculous about it. Now, I was feeling queasy, as I was being hit with a different question Has India changed or have I changed?

It was funny as I went to a shop nearby, and as I entered the shop, I noticed two people at the counter, attending to five different customers at the same time. I was wondering how I could get my job done. So, I merged with this imaginary line and almost magically, after a few minutes of wait, I was attended to by one of the two attendants. Well, that's how things work in India. In US, people would automatically align themselves in the order of arrival, but in India, the haphazardness is brought to an orderly fashion by something that is inbuilt in us. It is just the way we are brought up.

In India, there just cannot be something called as solitude (well, that's what some of the foreign aficionados would say), but I prefer to call it loneliness. It was a treat to catch up with family friends, and old timers, who sport a big beam as soon as they see you. Take a walk on any street, there would be a known face, and they would make it a point to inquire in what state you are (may be sarcastic as well!!). But, one of the good things is that, as you walk on the street and meet a fellow Indian, you would not have to sport that weak smile and hope to receive an acknowledgment. Here, everybody is a fellow Indian. What a realization!!!

As I continue my stay in India, I have to reiterate that, come what may, for all its faults, I just cannot hate India. I may be biased, but this is one of the issues where I feel it is not all that bad to be biased!!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Malleswaram, Bangalore!!!

Pic: Why Bangalore is called as the Garden city? Mvm 17th cross

After having booked my tickets three months well in advance, I was waiting with bated anticipation for the visit to Bangalore, well after three years. It was a mixture of unexplainable emotions and nostalgia, as I touched base at the brand new fantastic Bangalore International airport (much much better than the Frankfurt airport). I got out of the plane, and almost involuntarily, I bent down, touched the ground, and placed my hands on to my eyes, and I was definitely feeling blessed. One of the airport attendants felt proud, and I felt all the more. Bangalore has made me what I am today, and I was definitely feeling on top of the world. Yadu and I had a good time in the flight, as we made passing references to everybody in Kannada, and at the same time, had to be careful of what's happening around us, as half the flight was filled with Kannada speaking population. It was touching to see my parents wait at the airport, and the agony of three years dissipated in a fraction of a second.

Pic: Cleaning up the streets!!!

Pic: The usual traffic in Malleswaram 15th cross

Anyway, I do not have the time to write much, as I do not want to spend much time in front of the computer. I took a walk in Malleswaram, and I could capture the various moments in camera. To be honest, Malleswaram has not changed at all. It still maintains the conservative touch that it is so famous for. I had written a blog post on Malleswaram some years back, and now, I am going to post the pictures relevant to the post.

Pic: Veena Stores, the legendary Idli Angadi!

A writeup on the place where I have spent more than 20 years ( I will be spending more time when I get back) is not easy to start off. Malleswaram is the oldest residential area in Bangalore North, and together with Basavanagudi in Bangalore South, forms what can be hailed as the most conservative part of this cosmopolitan city. Malleswaram is more than just an area, it is a part of the family for a few thousands inhabiting the area. There is an aura about Malleswaram that prevents me from reaching out to the other parts of the city for a living. The perfect combination of conservative outlook tinged with not too modern and sophisticated way of living makes it a perfect place for a typical middle class family to settle here.

Pic: Malleswaram Railway Station

Pic: Raghavendra Idli angadi, near the railway station

Pic: Elneeru, one of the best ways to quench your thirst!

Malleswaram is characterized by two main roads connecting it to the rest of the city - Margosa Road and Sampige Road. Margosa Road derives its name from the entire stretch of Neem(Margosa) trees lined up on either side of the road. This part of the city follows the Main and Cross structure for representing an address. All roads parallel to these main roads are refered to as Mains and the ones perpendicular to them are the crosses. If you are new to the place, it is very easy to lose your way in the array of mains and crosses. Most of them who visit the city for the first time say Every road looks the same! But once you get adjusted to the area, it is easy to find your way through every nook and corner.

There are many things about Malleswaram that makes me nostalgic and gives me the drive to return back to Bangalore as soon as possible. There are a few things in life not of much significance, but can have a big impact in life. So, where do I start to take you for a brief tour of the place I love so much! I live in the 8th Main Road(one of the busy roads) off 9th Cross very close to the Malleswaram Railway Station. This railway station is a great place and the setting is such that it looks as if it has been lifted directly from Malgudi Days of RK Narayan. By the way, RK Narayan was so impressed with Mallleswaram and Basavanagudi that Malgudi was derived from these two names. The railway station has two entrances just like any other railway station, with two tracks separating the junctions on either side. The area is flanked by a number of trees with benches lined on the platforms in neat fashion. This serves as a meeting point for the many elders in the area, a perfect place for an early morning or a late evening walk, a place for some people to come and read books, a romantic hangout for young couples on the steps that form a sort of sidewalk from an overhanging bridge to the reservation counter, and for some young kids to have a peek at the not so many trains that whizz past the station during the day. For some people like me, it serves as a perfect hangout to meet with friends. How can I forget those days when all of us in the group used to meet here for hours together and discuss about everything in the world ranging from girls, future, placements, life, philosophy, religion, politics, family, wealth, controversies, college, education, bigwigs and what not! This used to be over a jhola(corn) with a lot of Khara(hot chilly paste) or a plate of bhel puri. It is amazing even today to think about the amount of time I have spent here with my friends. Just by the side of the Railway Station is the Anjaneya temple, which provides solace to the residents in the area. I used to make it a point to visit this temple almost everyday with my mother. A visit to the temple was a definite must before taking any decision. It used to provide me the comfort, warmth and confidence like never felt before. Anjaneya was(and is) a part of daily life and I can still hear my mother's voice ringing in my ears, Anjaneyara innikki parthuttu vandhaya (Did you meet Anjaneya today?) Such is the faith in the Lord not just of my mother, but all the residents in the area. On the other side of the railway station is a small shop which sells very good idlies and vadas. Four or five rupees for a plate of idly-vada. Heaven!

Pic: Cricket in 18th cross ground

On the 5th main Road is the school where I studied, BP Indian Public School, from the first grade upto the tenth grade. Just beside the school is the famous Kanchi Mutt and the serene composed face of Kanchi Kamakshi is truly comforting. Though the main Mutt in Kanchipuram is in the news for all the wrong reasons, this is one of those places which can really fill your void. There were a lot of young kids learning Vedas from the main priest and it was truly a wonderfuly sight to see them with the washtee (dhoti) and pattai (sacred ash on the forehead).

The busiest street in Malleswaram is the 8th Cross. This is the main shopping street for the residents. It has everything here - clothes, vegetables, fruits, utensils, chats and what not! This street is always crowded and is the lifeline of Malleswaram. During the festive season, the street used to be packed not with vehicles but of people. There never used to be an inch of space to move, but that was never a cause to lose motivation to shop on this street. This was the best time for the vendors to make business and they never left a stone unturned to attract customers. The price of the essential commodities always used to go up during this part of the time, because whatever maybe the cost, people used to end up buying it. Whenever I used to pass through this street, I used to come across a known face. The charm and joy one finds in shopping at such places can never be compared to the sophistication and gloss associated with the big malls. This is truly a different kind of experience.

Pic: Shankar Mutt on 5th main road

Talk of fast food joints and Malleswaram is the place. Let me list my favourite places:
  • As I told you before, the idly shop next to the railway station is too good.
  • CTR (Central Tiffin Room) or Shree Sagar (if you are going by the new name) is the best place where I have had Masala Dosai. This place is also good for the vadas, pooris, chow chow bath, idlies, but Dosai it is that is unbeatable here.
  • Sahyadri, another place too good for Dosais, and one of my favourites. This is on the Margosa Road at the 8th Cross Bus Stop. Such a place is called as Darshini (fast food joint) and these are the kind of places one should stop by to have superb South Indian delicacies.
  • Janata Hotel on the 8th Cross and this too is very famous for the dosais.
  • Veena Stores on 16th cross right opposite the Telephone exchange and this place is terrific for idlies and chutney.
  • Crunchy Munchy ulundu(uddin) vadai, masala vadai, bondas, Mensinkai(Chilly) bajjis in a shop diagonally opposite the Sai Baba temple on 15th cross, Sampige Road. This is a very small shop but that shouldn't deter anyone from going there. There is also a juice center beside the Sai Baba temple that serves refreshing fresh fruit juice.
  • My favourite North Indian food joint is the Sai Shakthi Hotel on the 8th cross which is just a walk away from Margosa Road
  • There is a place in 18th Cross in the corner on 8th Main road which serves very good parotas with Channa Masala for ten rupees. I can't recollect the name but it is really good.
  • The chat wala who used to park his gaadi just in front of MES College. This guy serves the best Tomato puri, chips masala, cucumber masala and bhel puri in the area.
  • Amrith Ice Cream Parlour in the street adjacent to my school serves authentic home made ice cream.
  • How can I forget New Krishna Bhavan (NKB as it is fondly called) located opposite the Sampige Theater. This place serves very good south Indian dishes with a lot of new varieties, apart from the conventional items. To supplement this with the North Indian dishes is the attached restaurant Gopika and I like the place mainly for its ambience along with good food!
Pic: The famous CTR

Pic: Why CTR has the best "Benne Masale Dose"!!!!!!!!!

Pic: He is responsible for churning out the "Benne Masale Dose"

There are a lot of temples in Malleswaram: Ganesha Temple near 8th cross, Raghavendra Swamy Temple near 8th Cross, Sai Baba temple on 15th Cross, Narasimha Swamy Temple on Temple Street, Kannika Parameswari temple on 8th Cross, Kadu Malleshwara temple (It is because of this temple that Malleswaram gets its name) andVenugopala Swamy temple on 11th Cross. These temples reflect the relgious sentiments of the population here.
Pic: Badminton at Canara Union

Malleswaram also is home to IISc (Indian Institute of Science), the best Research school in India and one of the best in the world. It was established way back in 1909 by J.N. Tata and has built up a terrific reputation over a long period. One of the reputed Pre-University Colleges in the state MES College of arts, science and commerce is situated in Malleswaram.

Pic: The college going population, Mvm 18th cross bus stop

All in all, Malleswaram is truly complete in every sense. I am always filled with passion to talk about this place. It took me about three to four days(couldn't do this continuously) to compose this writeup and I realise how much I love this place. Malleswaram brings a lot of emotions flooding within me and I am sure all those peope who have spent their time here will agree with me on this. It was really difficult for me to write up this piece, as I used to go back to time and recollect all those things that I loved doing here. Though off late it has resulted in a spate of apartments and heavy traffic in many parts, it is the most cherished place for me to spend my future.

I am sure there are many things I might have missed out, and it would be wonderful if you could post your comments on the parts where I have failed to cover. Next time I go to Bangalore, I am updating this writeup with pictures.

[UPDATE: Please click on the image below to view the Malleswaram Album (taken in 2008).  Alternatively, you can also go to the album through this link.]

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Reliving and awaiting...

For the past few days, I tried to read the much recommended book of "Freakonomics", and as I gradually made my way to the middle of the book, I thought it was time to quit what I was reading and venture out to something different. Definitely, it had some funny anecdotes, but I guess, it was not the right time to read the book. It really depends on your frame of mind to enjoy a particular book. So, I called it quits (yes, yes, yet another book) and wanted to read something which reminded me of home. Who else can I turn to, but our very own, RKN. I desperately wanted to read Bachelor of Arts, in spite of the fact that I have read this countless times in the past. If somebody asks me to list out my favorite RKN book, I would list out Swami and Friends, but inherently, I would gloat over Bachelor of Arts and take immense pleasure, as if I was the author of this wonderful literary piece. In spite of having written a review of this book earlier, I just can't control my urge to write more about it.

Anyway, I rummaged through my collection of books; rummaged, not because I have a huge set of books, but because, all of them are lying in a couple of cartons scattered here and there. It really does require some effort to pull out the books from the scattered and hidden mess.  As I found the book, and started to read, it was as though somebody had infused a fresh lease of life in me.  The book starts of with,

Chandran was just climbing the steps of the College Union when Natesan, the secretary, sprang on him and said, "You are just the person I was looking for.  You remember your old promise?'
'No,' said Chandran, promptly, to be on the safer side.

The opening sentence was enough to leave me in splits.  I was wondering how easy it is to encounter such a scenario.  Chandran and his friend Ramu decide to go to a movie, and here you encounter another brilliant subtle humor. 

At the small ticket-window, Chandran inquired, 'Has the show begun?'
'Yes, just,' said the ticket man, giving the stock reply.
You might be three-quarters of an hour late, yet the man at the ticket-window would always say, 'Yes, just.'

The best part about the book is, RKN doesn't enforce the humor, but just creates it emphatically out of the situation.  When Chandran tells his father about the girl he wants to marry, and pushes for an alliance, his father says

Look here, you will never be qualifed to marry unless you cultivate a lot of patience.  It is the only power that you will be allowed to exercise when you are married.  

With such a sense of comic timing, it is just difficult to let go of the book.  RKN, through Chandran, laments about the illusion of love and friendship.  "Friendship was another illusion like love, though it did not reach the same mad heights."

The best part about the book is that, whenever I read it, it takes me home.  It is a very similar family setup comprising of parents and a younger brother.  I could almost visualize the conversation I have with my brother after reading the passages between Chandran and his brother.  The book has got such a middle class setup comprising of a Tamil family, that it is easy to get involved in the book, and draw a lot of parallels with Chandran at different instants of his life. 

Reading the book, I suddenly had the urge to watch one of my all time favorite movies, Swades.  Being away from the country, it is one of the few movies that you can relate to instantly.  As the title of the movie hits you in different Indian languages, you can't help but feel the patriotic fervour gripping you.  I couldn't watch the movie completely, but the combination of Bachelor of Arts and Swades over the last couple of days was enough for me to relive the happenings at home, and look ahead eagerly, in all excitement, my impending trip to India in just a week's time.  With Yadu to give me company, I am sure that Tut-tut-tu-doooon (Yes, I know, I am bad in music; but this is the shehnai of Yeh jo des hai tera) will be ringing in my ears, as I touch base at Namma BengaluruYes, it's all coming back.  Malleswaram, CTR, Benne Masala Dose, Malleswaram Railway station, Anjaneya swamy temple, 8th cross, family, friends, the walk, masala puri,... the list is just endless, and to say that I am looking forward to all these things will be the understatement of the century.