Most of my childhood was spent travelling between cities- big and small, dusty and clean, with and without AC restaurants, with and without Hotel Kamat, and all in white ambassador cars, those guilt and nausea producing automobiles – from Gulbarga to Mangalore to Belgaum. In all that time, Bangalore was quite the strange city for me. Its narrative among faltering cousins always included descriptions of imported cars, never to be seen elsewhere in the country. Buildings so tall, ‘olle america tara ide’. Roads so wide, that you won’t even notice the time it takes to get to places. But I was a beach person at heart (still am) and that’s why nothing anybody ever said made a difference to me. I was a Mangalore girl through and through and the fact that Bangalore has no beaches made me happy because it couldn’t compete with Mangalore.
My first visit to Bangalore confirmed the America connection because dad took us to Kemp Fort. That and the fact that they had ‘custard caramel’ in the hotel that we stayed in – Sanman Deluxe. The only other restaurant I knew that served custard caramel was a modest ‘New Khyber’ in Belgaum.
I grew lesser and lesser curious about the other part of the city which always remained a mystery to me. It didn’t really matter to me because I didn’t want to know what lay beyond the white washed walls of the Shiva temple next to Kemp fort or where the road from Sapna Book house went to. I didn’t want to know if a better America lived there and if it did what they ate. The only places I can recollect having been familiar with are Fishland and Sapna at Majestic because dad took us there every evening that we were in the city. I remember having walked on the road that goes down from Fishland, eating corn, and competing with my sister to show her that I was not shorter than her.
The remainder of the time was spent in Sanman deluxe where my sister and I would continue our struggle to have quiet fights, away from mother’s ears. We fought over books so my mother bought two of everything. We had Two Snow white and the seven dwarves, two Sleeping beauties and two Secret sevens. I flinch with regret when I think of those painful twos now. Stupid bitch wanted everything that I bought. That’s all of the Bangalore that remained with me when I was away from the city. Eight years into living in Bangalore and I still hadn’t discovered the city and its food, its lanes and its theatres.
And then, the ninth year I fell in love with a boy. That’s when I slowly started to notice the city. Bangalore is a lovely city to watch from the back seat of a boyfriend’s bike. Sometimes he shrugged with indifference when I asked him how he remembered lanes, sometimes he would frown at my naivety, and some other times he would laugh menacingly at my questions. Bastard doubled up with laughter and almost fell off his bike near Lalbagh when I asked him why we had been passing through the same Lalbagh for over 15 minutes. I didn’t know there was more than one entrance to Lalbagh.
It would be too haughty of me to say that I discovered the city then, on the back of a pulsar. Only a small fraction of my interest about the city was slowly beginning to peek around this time. Discovery was far away, still waiting for me in the lanes of Ulsoor and Richmond road and Kammanahalli and Banaswadi.
I must have been too much in love with him to notice when the big, flashy sari shops from above Majestic’s Mantap became small clusters of ‘Hotel Lucky inn’ and ‘Hotel Quickly’ on Cottonpet main road. I was amazed at the smart turns he took to avoid maniac cows around the corners of his house.
I have always been fascinated with driving/riding one’s way through the city and he seemed to know it really well. I only had to give him a landmark and he would take me there. I was bowled over by his riding in and out of any lanes that the city just threw on unsuspecting onlookers like myself.
It was a delight to discover the street food lanes by the cramped and moving streets of Chikpet. Here I found Papdi- that delightful yellow crunchiness with its green chilli companion – so subtle, you won’t know when your tongue is on fire. I feel indebted to the boyfriend’s mother for introducing me to Papdi.
Soon I was moving to different bikes and their backseats and different parts of the city and their histories. The old antique-y homes on Cockburn road and Shivajinagar. The shape shifting houses around cantonment, the office/temple/go-down homes near Ulsoor. I hate to exaggerate but my bond with the city is more romantic than much else. So much of it was uncovered in the backseats of bikes. And the conversations about the city that followed were no less romantic.
I started riding 3 weeks ago and it is with deep sorrow that I have to report that no amount of discovering/uncovering the damn city happens when you are riding your own bloody vehicle. People will honk mercilessly like their fucking life depends on it if you so much as slow down to look for parking. For all its romance, the city people are mean to L boards. I know this – I honked exasperatedly at three L board vehicles today.
Slowly, my curiosity to learn more about the city is growing. It was after a lifetime of multiplexes that I discovered the joy of watching Tamil movies in Lavanya theatre, which for a long time I had only looked at disapprovingly from outside. The boyfriend hated single screens – something about bugs under the seat and the pressure of having to protect the girlfriend and all. Many moons later, I did go to Lavanya and ended up having fun. No bugs. Now I almost feel left out in multiplexes if nobody whistles when the hero makes his entry onscreen. It smells nice but feels empty in multiplexes.
Eating is yet another romance that I relate the city with. Once upon a boyfriend time, I used to be a sucker for Chinese food. I took my boyfriend to the newly opened Chung Wah Opus in Jayanagar and he loved it so much that he decided to eat there twice a week, making me hate Chinese food forever.
I started discovering taste and food around the time I fell in love with Lavanya, which isn’t too long ago. I tasted sushi for the first time – loved it. My taste buds started craving for seafood kimbabs every other week, I found out that I am attracted to crab in more ways than one and belted it at ‘Mangalore Pearl’ and ‘Carnival de Goa’, I fell in love multiple times with Hye Kum Gang and Benjarong and then Republic of noodles happened, that delicious,delicious bitch.
I don’t learn more about this city with every passing day because most of the time I don’t even notice the streets I am walking on. But suddenly something goes boink in my head and I have all these questions. It happens over time, getting to know this city and others. It’s slow but I don’t have anywhere else to be for now so I’ll take my time. On my two wheeler.