Lalbagh

Lalbagh has been the cause for many embarrassments in my life. The first time I saw it, I saw it two times but it felt like four. I had no idea there were 4 gates and sitting next to my friend in the bus, I saw the west and east gates in fifteen minutes and asked her if the driver was taking us round and round. Supriya slapped her forehead even as she struggled to keep from laughing rudely in my face.

She explained and I said, ‘oh’. Then I moved on with my life.

Many years later, my then best friend began frequenting Lalbagh. She’d sit there for hours, sometimes the whole day. She’d order from Dominos, eat cheese garlic bread and watch the lake. I never understood what she sought there but she went there every day. Whatever she sought, she must have found abundantly. She tried to get me to enjoy the quiet there and I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t something I wanted too much of. Now that I think about it, Josephine is probably the only woman from my past who knew how to be alone and enjoy it.

IMG_20170429_181155

One day in Lalbagh, Josephine and I were sitting on the bench and preparing to leave when suddenly, she grabbed me by the arm and started to whisk me away. ‘Whaaaat’, I moaned. ‘Don’t look back. Whatever you do, do not look back’, she muttered. So I looked back. A man who had been sleeping all evening had woken up and was now pleasuring himself quite ferociously. Like there was no tomorrow. The phrase ‘going to town’ came to mind.

That man effectively ruined our hitherto chaste friendship. We had never talked about bodily things before and suddenly we found it difficult to return to Lalbagh together.

After that unfortunate incident, I forgot all about Lalbagh and it went back to being that part of the road that smells nice when I ride past it. Occasionally, I’d give it a cheerless nod and bookmark it for the future.

***

Today, it rained so I thought why not and swerved right on Siddapura Road to park suddenly in the middle of actual riding. I parked and wondered if I had to pay. There was no counter so I walked on, looking back every now and then and half expecting an old man to come running after me, yelling at me to pay. Nobody came.

When I began looking around, I realised how afraid I am of my own thoughts. Every time a long walk is in the cards, I pack my ipod before anything else and rely too much on music to keep me away from myself. But the only music here was the crunchy footwear sound that I have come to appreciate so much. The after rain footwear on part dry crunch-crunch mud sound, like the sound people in cartoons make when they eat anything.

IMG_20170429_212205_558

The traffic noise seemed to be coming from an approaching city. It was drizzling and it seemed like the trees were making their own noise. Men in smart colored tees were jogging past me with their hoo hoo breathlessness. Somewhere an urdu speaking aunty was instructing her daughter to forget the ball forever if she dropped it into the lake. ‘Gaya tho uthech, bhoolna so’

IMG_20170429_180455

The lake became more and more real as I saw the birds near it. The faint traffic noise now seemed to be coming from above. I walked to the Lotus pond and trained my ears to pick up coastal sounds of frogs croaking. One, maybe two and then suddenly nothing. But the trees were having fun and continued making their rustling noise. I was understanding Josephine and began missing her terribly and missed also that outrageous man who molested himself.

It was a good day.

Riding

When I’m riding to college, my posture changes 3 times. When I take the ‘sudden’ left immediately after home, my back is straight with caution, my arms relaxed on the handles, and my demeanour polite and undemanding, unlike my mother who watches me from the balcony every morning.

A little ahead and my body picks up speed and hurries past ambling cows who are immune to life and noise outside their bodies and ignore me to focus on the more important things in life- flies.

My body is at its rigid best when we pass by the loud and bellowing temple and its irritating, loyal devotees seated in their vehicles, their palms joined together outside the window. Arms that I’d like my super fast activa to chop in half. These are the only people I honk at mercilessly. I don’t like this excuse they have awarded themselves – that they shan’t be disturbed when they are praying to god in the middle of the road regardless of how many vehicles line up behind.

Near Jain College and its acutely chatty pupils, my grip on the accelerator thickens. They stand in the middle of the road to hi-five, to chat, to greet each other. They should be wiped off the earth.  When I begin honking, girls jump back in fright and roll their eyes, boys point their elongated arms at me in disgust while I flutter off happily.

***

At signals, my body is light and I try to balance the vehicle’s weight, alternating from one foot to the other. My eyes fall on fellow riders, wondering where they’re headed, where they’ve come from, whether they’ve bathed?

Now and then, my face becomes rounder and falls when it sees men who ogle from inside their vehicles. It falls, and then it stares back at them, gaze fixed, challenge accepted. Let’s see who withdraws first. Sometimes they withdraw first and when they don’t, and if I find the courage that morning, I flash my middle finger at them before scuttling off. This is the advantage of a two-wheeler. One cannot scuttle off in a car.

When I cross a busy road, my body is hesitant but my palms are stubborn. They have a tighter grip on the bike than I have on my life and in seconds, without so much as a passing register to the honking truck nearby, I speed to the other side.

***

On route to getting some alone time, my body is warm and I am happy. I smile at trees and the skyline; I appreciate the color in the evening, humming old and forgotten Bollywood songs and tunes of languages that I don’t know. When I am headed to G’s, I’m secretly a little anxious. The writing may or may not happen but there’s always plenty of hot chocolate to fall back on. And it’s always a nice thing to know that there are several plug points at G’s even though I may not need one.

Riding to K is mostly a set of decisions. Is it a rum kind of evening or a ginger chai kind? Cops never make it to this list. (Never been caught *fingers crossed*) Is it August already? Are my Mango Melbas gone? Mixed fried rice or pork noodles? When I’m picky, I flirt with other options but the heart wants what it wants and what it wants every night is mixed fried rice without liver. Because Anand approves.

***

Homewards, I’m goose bumping all over because the night is always chilly and mother is not sleeping until I get home.  When I first stole this bike from my brother, he’d park it inside for me every night. And then one day, just like that he refused. I learnt how to park decently but I don’t feel satisfied until I bang the bike’s bum to the noisy gate at least once before retiring.

An Ode to Drunk Women We Meet in Loos

Finally sat down and wrote that drunken women in loos piece. TLF ran it yesterday. This was saved in multiple draft folders before it sighed so loud, I felt bad for it and myself. You can read the piece here. Feedback is most welcome 🙂

Dose. Overdose.

May began in the last week of April, when my vacations did. I am now in a bit of a rewind mode because I watched a whole lot of shit before I left to holiday happily in other lands and now that I am back, I have no memory of which play/ movie happened when. And I need to have chronology more than anything in my life right now. I find that I am aging, and aging quite badly.

So the string of doing things started on the last day of valuation when I hopped into TBC with the girls and discovered that beer can do the same thing that rum can. Possibly worse. A week before this, I wrote a longish piece on my experience with caste for a journal. While it is always easier to write personal essays than academic ones, this one took quite a lot from me. When I reread it now, I don’t understand what it took from me.

The next day, I watched Yashogathe which left me in love with the house it was shot in. Later N and I met to write. She wrote her first piece of memoir, which I drooled all over, and I tried writing and rewriting the review for Yashogathe. In the evening, I was at Rangashankara watching Avaru bittu ivaru bittu ivaru yaaru and Sanchayana. I remembered Kalagangotri Kitti from Beechi House and throughout Sanchayana, I looked only at him and waited for him to speak.

Watching Kannada plays has come to mean something more lately. It reminds me of the time I was first brought to the city. I go back to all the mosaic floored houses in Bangalore that we rented when we first arrived. The one in Kathriguppe with its cement terrace and the backyard washing stone. The packet of yummies and sticks of tamarind paste that we ate while walking back home from school everyday.

The language brings back faint memories of watching Parvati, Mayamruga and Muktha with my grandmother. In effect, Rangashankara and Kala Soudha have become spaces where I am forced to focus – on watching and on writing.

The next couple of days were insane — It occurred to me on the eighth day of NSD’s Dakshina Bharatha Rangotsava that I had missed 8 days. So I went to Gurunanak Bhavan to catch the 500th show of Mukhyamantri Chandru. I had to leave in the middle because my head was all fuzzy and I started to hyperventilate.

Next morning, I rode to Forum where I watched Mother’s day and then after a serious round of Old Monk in the evening, I floated to Gurunanak Bhavan again to catch the last of the NSD festival – a Malayalam play called Charithra pusthakathil ekkuoredu (The Abandoned)

Chakravyuha happened the next morning. And as surprised as I was by how much I liked Puneet Rajkumar, I was swayed by how much I missed watching Kannada films. Writing the review for Chakravyuha was more learning and less writing. I was so taken with my own response to the film that I didn’t quite think of anybody’s interest in it.

After bouts of eating, sleeping and daydreaming, I watched two Malayalam films-Leela and Kali. While I didn’t quite care for Kali, Leela made me think of Marquez and the thin copy of No One Writes to the Colonel that I haven’t gone back to. A prime BIFFES catch this year was Gabo – the documentary by Justin Webster. Marquez says here that more than One Hundred Years of Solitude, it was No One Writes to the Colonel that was difficult to write and one he considers his best work. Although there was nothing particularly Marquez-like in Leela, I giggled when the hero says Sulquer Dalman and Marcia Garquez.

Vikram Kumar’s 24 was refreshing. Not only was I seeing a Suriya film after ages, I was also watching a Tamizh sci-fi after a really long time. I should have quietly gone back home and written about the film, instead I went to Rangashankara to catch Shylock. Anish Victor playing Shylock gave me goosebumps. So many adaptations of The Merchant of Venice but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with an OCD prone Shylock. 

Anish Victor takes Shylock’s language and puts it in every little thing he does on stage. It’s in the way he shuffles papers until they are kept in the perfect square position, in the way he handles objects with attention – pen, knife, paper, phone, and in the way he says ‘moneys’ instead of ‘money’

That should have been all. Shylock would have been the best way to end my theatre spree before I took off to Manali. But I had to go watch 1920 London. I don’t know why. Ask my brother.

Thankfully after I returned, Sairat was waiting. Last evening, I waded through the rain from Chinlung’s to Garuda and sat in Inox’ plush red seat, fully drenched.

I forgot the rain, I forgot the wet undergarments, I forgot how cold I was. Because in its first 15 minutes, Sairat had me by my freezing cold balls. If there’s anything that has made me want to write in a long time – especially after spending a week with my madcap family, it is Sairat.

Here is a song from Sairat that has been giving me a 16 year old girl’s hormones –

London

Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet took me around a London that was a lot more fierce than the London in The Paying Guests or even in Fingersmith. When Kitty and Nan see London from the window of their carriage, I saw a London that was distant and hungry. It suddenly felt like I was reading a lot more Dickens and less Waters. I cared more for Whitstable than London. By the end of it all, I wanted the damn oysters back.

Even so, the London in Tipping the Velvet left a lot to be desired. Which is why I spent all of last Sunday riding quite high on London mania. I finally watched Four Weddings and a Funeral. After recovering from drooling all over Andie MacDowell, I watched Peter Ackroyd’s documentary on London. For an hour and a half, I was zapped by London and its history. I took particular interest in all of London’s great fires.I kept wanting to begin writing about my trip to London but it still seems like I am not ready.

Over a cup of mushroom soup and a mug of tea, I watched London in its finest black and white form. In his deep fascination with London, Peter Ackroyd acknowledges how cities become strangers and then people. But they become people who will always remain that little bit strange, that little bit mysterious. They will lure you into their stories, seduce you with their history but they will never be able to tell you exactly what happened on those streets.

I remember getting off a mini-bus in Kurukshetra ten years ago and wondering if the mud was really red because of the war. It is the same fascination I saw when Ackroyd stands on the oldest street in London and calls it so. Virginia Woolf too, writes maddeningly about a London that she grew up in — that she is not satisfied by, because she is convinced she will never fully learn its streets or its scars.

In Arts & Culture one day, a student asked me which my favourite area in the city was. I didn’t have to think much because before I knew it, the long, snake and laddery streets of Cottonpet came zooming back to me.

The Bicycle Thieves

20150822_185708

Kala Soudha seemed prettier than usual last evening. It had been raining and the air smelled sweet. When I parked in a hurry and climbed up the steps, I saw that there was nobody outside. Vowing to leave 2 hours before every play I watch for the rest of my life, I entered the theatre and was greeted with a cold AC smell. After grabbing the first empty seat I saw, I wondered if Kala Soudha always had an AC.

After an hour and a half, I was on my way home, trying to keep up with the many images of what I had seen. There are so many things about The Bicycle Thieves that are pleasing to eyes and ears, all the same. I hate to hurry here but the story always gets in between how it is told, so I am going to get it out of the way. An unemployed man must deal with the thrill of finally having secured a job and the misery of having lost his bicycle, both on the same day. He must encounter the many faces of the city and must encounter them with his little son, in his search for the cycle.

At the corner stage stood an inverted cycle tyre. On the wall were thrown the characters’ shadows. This was accompanied by people miming sounds loudly. An approaching, silent creak for the closing/opening of the door; an ornate machine sound for when the factory workers are at work; and the elaborate anti-clock rotation of the cycle chain for when the cycle is stolen in broad daylight.

As a child, I didn’t like it when characters onscreen/ onstage forgot to acknowledge an object after they had brought it to the audience’ notice. A cap, a pen, a prop left there to deal with all eyes in the room on it, long after its owner had left the stage, until someone is sent to retrieve it.

In one scene, the father-son duo sits and spits on their misery. In a moment’s notice, they have both stood up. My eyes immediately went to the discarded tiffin box that lay next to them. I was wondering if it’s going to lie there, orphaned for the rest of its life, when I almost whopped in surprise as I watched the son point to it matter-of-factly and take it with him.

Every time the Urdu-kannada was used, my ears strained to drown out the audience’s laughter. I knew I would laugh but I wanted to hear the words first. It’s oddly beautiful to listen to that dialect. The Urdu falls about and bounces off the Kannada, and emerges into something one taps foot and folds arms to.

After having watched The Bet, Beechi house, and The Bicycle Thieves, I have come to realize that I enjoy watching Kannada plays more than English plays. I like the swiftness in the actors’ language, their familiarity when they speak to each other or look at each other and their references to the city. Everytime I watch a Kannada play, I feel closer to the city in some way.

Yauatcha

Photo Courtesy Zomato

      Photo Courtesy Zomato

When I called them, the automated voice of a lady asked me to dial 1 if I wanted Yauatcha London, 2 if I wanted Yauatcha Bangalore, and 3 for Yauatcha Delhi. I was stumped at London so I had to redial to get to Bangalore. Eventually when I made the reservation and got there, I had the wrong place. You don’t want to go to Lido, where there is a life size poster of Yauatcha with their sticky rice, and their various colourful sauces in little black ceramic bowls because Yauatcha isn’t there. It is 2 buildings away on the fifth floor in One MG Road Mall, sharing luxurious space with a couple of other restaurants.

Upon entering, I was delighted to find a busy and steaming open kitchen on my right, and parallel lines of tables on my left. It was like being on a train, long and neatly lined.

Seats were taken, sly glances were thrown across the shiny plates on other people’s tables, and Dim sums were ordered. A Pork Charsui bun and a Pork &Prawn Shui Mai. And throughout the evening I was left struggling with the words Sui mui Sui mui bubbling like soap in my head. I liked the Pork & Prawn Shui Mai. The roll looked like cotton dipped in water. It looked translucent enough for the prawn and pork inside it to become shameless teasers. I am going to borrow the cotton comparison for the rest of this piece. The Pork Charsui bun was the lightest bun I ever ate. It looked like white sponge, only better. I expected it to crumble in my hands and leave its white after colours on my fingers but it would apparently only break smoothly in my mouth. The pork inside was sweet, the sauce smooth.

The Sugarcane chicken roll was probably an over-kill although I continue to wonder how sugarcane and chicken could possibly come together in the most laughable combo. It was chicken pakoda with peas and chillies wrapped delicately around a juicy sugarcane toothpick. This was serious food and absolutely un-laughable. I decided I had seen everything in the world and that now I should retire and pass quietly, rubbing hands on my tummy.

But I shouldn’t hurry because the Sticky Chicken Fried Rice with egg and the Spicy Wild Prawn Curry are now coming with the modest Wrapped chicken with black pepper. I noticed with struggling demeanour how the waiter scooped the sticky rice with a Chinese soup spoon and shook it down on my plate. It’s out of deep respect for the waiter, and the people at my table that I sometimes manage to resist diving into my food the minute it leaves the ladle. Even when I do that, I am contemplating how little food there is on the table compared to how hungry I am and how tasty the food is going to be.

When I am lingering on the first seven bites, I am still strongly of the opinion that there is very little food on the table. By the time I have reached the 14th morsel, I begin to devilishly look about what’s left in the bowl and how soon my stomach seems to be filling.

The sticky rice was sticky. The Prawn in the curry outdid everything else I had had so far; well everything except the dim sum. There were 6 massive chunks of prawn in a mustard-yellow curry. I was more smitten with the sticky rice and wrapped chicken with black pepper so I dutifully ignored the yellow curry and carried on. The prawn had spent just enough time with its curry to not be bored by it, while having absorbed its spice; it had retained enough to spurt some in my mouth.

The Wrapped chicken with black pepper was simple although it looked anything but simple when it arrived at the table, literally wrapped in an oil paper, all hugged out with the black pepper.

The Raspberry Delice which was Raspberry dark chocolate mousse, hazelnut brownie, and raspberry ice cream was a little sour for my palate after it had been massaged by the pork and prawn predecessors.

I had anticipated the bill to puncture the table and it did, albeit a little too loudly. But I left with my faint heart full of promises to return and my belly aching with fullness.