I’m in love with the nondescript streets around this building. Through the soft sunlit haze, I see blocks in various colours, coconut palms generously sprinkled among them. Apart from the traffic on the main road, there are few people to be seen on the not-so-unclean roads leading into the housing colonies; a boy climbs to the terrace of his “independent” house and starts flying a kite, reminding me of the time in Bhilai when I used to beg my neighbour’s much older son to let me hold his kite for a while. Normally very kind, he chose to draw the line at letting me fly his kite. I suppose a four-year-old accomplice wouldn’t have been of much use in a pitched battle with other thirteen-year-old boys.
Yelahanka is that part of Bangalore that has eschewed style, as other posh areas of Bangalore know it: or perhaps hasn’t even thought of embracing it. There are no pubs but just a few open bars which don’t charge admission. The cut-outs that talk of drinking partners predominantly feature Appy Fizz. People don’t hesitate to throng the steps of New Dil Pasand Tea Shop, or have their fortunes told by the palmist who, a board indicates, sits in some remote recess up the stairs of a shady-looking building. Foodworld competes for customers with Dr Rajkumar Fruits & Vegetables. Most of the eateries are Indian: tatte idli and various “baths” evidently score over cuisines from countries people would probably struggle to locate on maps. For this is the part of Bangalore where many people still eke out a living.
Come mid-morning, Mother Dairy sees a steady stream of customers. Remember Enid Blyton’s elevenses? The items most in demand at the dairy are badam milk, mango lassi and Chocobar ice cream. Do you also recollect the Campco advertisements, with the red-and-white heart logo, in old issues of Tinkle? That is the earliest emoticon I can think of. At the dairy, slim bars of Campco chocolates are stacked in glass cases, and provide the easiest, cheapest time machine back to the early 90s. The lady at the counter is one of the people you think of long after you have left a place, the kind of person who comes back in seemingly incoherent nostalgic flashes- she smiles as she hands you the chocolate or packets of milk, never visibly tired or grumpy. She reminds me of the flower lady at Kumbakonam, who gave me a fresh red rose when my mother bought strings of jasmine flowers- such kindness! The security guards and the woman who looks after the till at Foodworld are very friendly too: they tell my parents their stories. The men are from Assam, having left their faraway homes for the better prospects they hope the city will provide. The girl at the cash counter is away on leave; she is getting married to a software engineer.
In the lanes are shops of various kinds. Fancy/variety store, sweet shop, flour mill, Bayar’s coffee, what would you like today? The only ones I abhor are the butchers’ shops, with bloody carcasses suspended from the top gathering dust, feathers strewn and trampled into the mud, and birds squawking pitifully. Surely, surely there must be other ways of making a living?
Several temples stand within a short radius, one, sometimes two, for every day of the week; often, you can‘t tell where a house ends and a temple begins. But wherever there is a large tree with its branches spreading out benevolently, chances are you’ll find a temple underneath. A rough wooden stall stands near almost every one of them, heaped with marigolds and jasmine garlands. The woman running it twines loose white flowers busily, barely looking up as she transfers money into her battered tin cash-box. Further ahead are more shops, all squashed together. The minarets of a mosque, with a loudspeaker attached to one of them, come into view. An Islamic dupatta shop advertises its wares, elsewhere a man wipes the grease off his fingers at Super Star Puncher Shop.
The jumble of narrow streets opens into the neat, barrier-lined roads of the Air Force Base. It isn’t without its entertainments: the unpretentious cinema, the row of tiny shops, yet another temple, this time with all the important gods in one place. It has an idol of Munishwara in a dimly-lit chamber under a tree; turn suddenly, and you might well be startled by its piercing gaze.
I can safely say that I would rather live in this time-warped bit of Bangalore than in any other part of the city. The block of flats I live in doesn’t quite belong to the past, but it has its head in the right place. I like looking at cities, but I don’t think I’d enjoy living in the heart of one. However, I never lived in a city till I was nearly twenty-two, so what do I know. I grew up in small towns and I never had any intention of turning my life into a glamorous story set in a ‘city of dreams‘: all I wanted to do was to write, and you can do that anywhere until you realise you have to start earning a living.
I mentioned earlier that the streets here are nondescript: I must say there is an exception. A road very close to where I live is named after Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, one of the brave men who died fighting terrorists in the Mumbai attacks of 26/11. Posters announcing a candlelight vigil in his memory last November were tacked on at various spots. They haven’t been desecrated or ripped off. Perhaps everyone here has been too preoccupied to think of removing the posters, but I like to believe it is intentional. And it is quite possible, because this part of Bangalore has a good deal of heart.