Wednesday, July 23, 2008
My newspaper reading is usually limited to The Hindu and I do not remember reading anything about this other, smaller establishment sitting snug in the premises of the bigger one.
Don't know why, but when I looked at the pictures just now, I thought of a "portemanteau" word (examples: breakfast+lunch = brunch; chuckle+snort = chortle; plaza+phoenix = planix? phleenix? phoeza?).
That aside, I wonder if this Phoenix too will rise again from the rubble in a gleaming new, steel and glass avatar peddling cheap, trendy, "made in china", plastic shit as opposed to the "high class horology, mechanics and engraving" that the sign board proclaims? Not likely.
Also, I personally know that atleast for the last 3 or 4 years there was very little horology - high class or otherwise - that was being dispensed with in this shop.
I know because I wandered into the shop one afternoon a few years ago to check if there was a horologist or a mechanician within who could repair this mechanical toy of mine.
All I found was a curt, middle aged gentleman sitting at an untidy, cluttered table surrounded by a few old clocks. He seemed to have a premonition of his establishment's imminent demise and showed absolutely no interest in my trivial problem. I remember being disappointed because I had naively expected a smiling old "high class horologist" who would somehow fix my toy with a dash of mechanical wizardry and a touch of old world charm.
But that's all that it was finally: a large dollop of naivete.
AND...this one here is a biggie that's probably marked for deletion too...the old airport about 24 hours after being de-comissioned.
There was not a soul in sight that night. Not even a security guard.
Now that this airport is the "old" airport, will the "Airport Road" be rechristened as the "Old Airport Road" to keep the neighboring "Old Madras Road" company?
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
In Ulsoor, coming from the Frank Anthony Public School, a bit before you wade into Trinity Circle, if you turn right into a very narrow street, you'll turn right back into the 70's or so.
My principle reason for occasionally walking this street is the Kali temple, about a 100 meters up from the corner. It has an interesting history and a stunning, powerful idol.
On your way to the temple, on the left, you'll see this tailor's shop that claims to be 87 years old.
I spoke to the current owner and he told me that his grandfather had actually established the shop more than a 100 years ago at the very same premises, but that the board was put up only much later by his father.
Everything I had said about the tailor in Chetput, Madras seemed true of this gentleman too...
His son was in the shop working alongside him and a clutch of grandchildren grinned and giggled as they posed for photographs.
In 2021, in 13 years' time, will the shop be around to celebrate its official centenary? Will the current owner, his son and perhaps a grandson, hang a garland on the signboard, burn camphor, smash a pumpkin on the road and then go to the Kali temple up the street to pray for another 100 years of status-quo? Will the world continue to stand still in this narrow street and just let them be?
I, for one, wish it would.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Long, long before “Whitefield” became a bad word in the lexicon of ITES professionals wanting a piece of the real estate pie in the sky, this once sleepy hamlet on the outskirts of Bangalore was already a seasonal, red letter destination for a small, itinerant community.
For more than three decades members of this unique community have congregated here at irregular intervals – usually at least once every year – their migratory pattern decided by the presence of the unique object of their devotion.
They come from every corner of this nation and every continent on Earth. They represent every profession, every demographic and every segment of humanity. They all come here, unbidden, on their own and unite into one big mass of unquestioning belief. Some stay for days, weeks. Some come for a morning. But they are all united by a common, invisible, cosmic thread that only they seem to sense.
One Thursday last week I dragged myself out of bed at 5 in the morning and took a “call taxi” to this hallowed turf to see for myself how this tribe was faring.
It was a pleasant morning. Construction was apace for an “over-bridge” to replace the decades old “railway crossing”. A constant stream of cars, autos and buses ebbed and flowed on either side of the tracks, disgorging a stunning variety of people. Children, geriatrics, housewives, teens, self conscious damsels, poor, rich, in-between, healthy, weak, ailing, a fair sprinkling of Caucasians - they all hurried to join two gender specific queues by the side of the narrow road, along an imposing, kilometer long compound wall. There was very little chatter. A collective aura of shared purpose and subsumed individuality seemed to emanate from the congregation.
There was a small police presence but it was redundant. The crowd was too pre-occupied and too well behaved to pose a law and order problem.
As I joined the queue I saw small signboards directing everyone to deposit their mobile phones and handbags etc., at designated counters. At the mobile phone counter I was given a token in lieu of my phone.
As my queue entered the gates, an animated group of men dressed in white shirts and trousers thoroughly frisked everyone. Everything except wallets and keys was politely confiscated and thrown pell-mell into cardboard cartons.
There was a sizeable army of these white clad individuals about. Most of them wore blue, patterned, boy-scout style scarves around their necks. Average age: 55 or 60. They were everywhere, watching over the crowd. These were the “volunteers”, members of the “service brigade”. There were dozens of them and they were the only aberration in an otherwise other-worldly morning.
A few meters from the entrance there was a huge covered hall bigger than a football field. It was divided into two roughly equal parts and the crowd filed into the near half in two ever disciplined, gender specific streams. There was another round of metal detector walk through and frisking before entering the hall.
Once inside, the crowd sat down cross-legged on the cemented floor in long, disciplined rows. There was still very little chatter. The atmosphere was charged with expectation.
The whole scene, I thought, was what it might be like before a mega prison concert.
And the “volunteers” played the role of jailors to perfection. Some of them were downright ridiculous in the manner that they directed the crowd while others bordered on the perverse. I saw one of the “volunteers” station himself at a spot and point at his feet directing some people who had just entered the hall to come and start a fresh line. The moment the first person sat down at the spot, the “volunteer” moved a couple of feet to his right and again pointed to his feet. The man who had sat down at the originally indicated spot uncomplainingly got up and again sat down at the new location, followed by the dozen or so people who had half formed a new line behind him. The “volunteers” indulged in several such antics throughout the couple of hours we were there.
The crowd however was impervious to the constant jabbering of the “volunteers”. They fretted a bit but were strangely self absorbed, like patients in a doctor’s waiting room.
The “lottery”, the rest of the wait and the concert
By 8 AM the ante-hall had filled up nicely. There must have been more than 3000 people, all sitting cross-legged in nice straight lines on the cement floor. One of the volunteers walked down the front of the rows and asked the first person in each row to pick a numbered coupon from a bag or box or something. This was the “lottery”. The different lines would be let into the still empty front half of the hall in the order of the numbers chosen. There must surely be some method and reason to this but it beats me.
Anyway, my line finally got its turn to get up and troop into the front hall where we all again sat down on the floor. The crowd was a whisper more restless than before with a heightened sense of expectation. My legs were beginning to ache from sitting cross-legged and I desperately wanted to stand up and stretch. But I felt sheepish when I saw all the others around me bearing their discomfort with equanimity. I squirmed and wriggled a bit but otherwise held my peace.
Suddenly, a brief split-moment of silence descended on the congregation and the next instant a clear, beautiful, lilting female voice from somewhere in the front row filled the hall with a devotional song – a bhajan. When the first pristine line had been sung, the entire gathering repeated it in one harmonious voice. All my impatience and fretting disappeared. The music filled me from all sides like a cocoon, a womb.
And then He appeared from behind a curtained doorway on the distant stage – a frail figure in a bright orange dress, with his trademark halo of hair, sitting in a wheelchair pushed by two young men. They carefully maneuvered the wheelchair to the center of the stage and sat down on either side at the feet of Satya Sai Baba.
Everybody was craning to get a clear view of the distant figure. Every single person in that hall was totally focused on this, the object of their absolute devotion. They were in rapture.
The music continued with increased fervor and passion - thousands of voices singing as one. I could hear and feel the collective force of a myriad passions meshing and melding and fusing together before being consummated in the infinite grace emanating from that frail presence on the distant stage.
This cosmic concert went on for a good 45 minutes. Song after song washed over me and I did not take my eyes off the stage. “Swamy” sat listening and gazing over the crowd, occasionally moving his hands in time with the music. He once bent to say something to one of the men seated at his feet.
After what seemed to me a moment, an eternity, at an unseen cue, the concert ended and they wheeled him away.
As disciplined as ever, the crowd dispersed but there was a slight bottleneck at the exits. The volunteers weren’t around to regulate the reverse flow. Even if they had been around, I would have forgiven them their trespasses that morning.
That morning, I felt as if I had touched a small fragment of Infinity.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Never neglect any of the Sip Sam Seh,
The source of the will is in the waist,
Pay attention to the slightest change from full to empty,
Let energy flow through the whole body continuously,
Stillness embodies motion, motion stillness,
Seek stillness in motion,
Surprising things will happen when you meet your opponent,
Give awareness and purpose to every movement,
When done correctly all will appear effortless,
At all times pay attention to the waist,
Relaxed clear awareness of abdomen, the energy can be activated,
When the base of the spine is erect, energy rises to the top of the head,
The body should be flexible,
Hold the head as if suspended from a string,
Keep alert and seek the meaning and purpose of your art,
Bent and stretched, open and closed,
Let nature take its course,
Beginners are guided by oral teaching,
Gradually one applies himself more and more,
Skill will take care of itself,
What is the main principle of the martial arts?
The mind is the primary actor and the body the secondary one,
What is the purpose and philosophy behind the martial arts?
Rejuvenation and prolonging of life beyond the normal span,
So an eternal spring,
Every word of this song has enormous value and importance,
Failing to follow this song attentively, you will sigh away your time.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
This morning though, I had a compelling reason to sit down and write…
Today is a particularly happy day for me. Today is the day I received my Orange Belt (the first level) in Tang Soo Do.
I have been learning this martial art for almost a year now, but with some breaks in between. Why and how I came to do this, you’ll read a little later on.
I do not know what images a “martial arts class” evokes in you. Perhaps a scene out of “Enter The Dragon”, with lots of h.a.r.d. types endlessly repeating punches and kicks, extreme macho types breaking piles of burning bricks with their bare hands, and alpha males sparring with precise, lethal moves and blows?
Enter the Dragon
Well, the classes I attend are very different. My instructor is a soft spoken lady who needs glasses to read. Make no mistake, though… she can break boards, burning bricks and bones with the best of them - she is a second degree black belt. She is just likely to do the destruction more gracefully.
Her daughter is 10 years old and the only reason she hasn't received her black belt as yet is that she needs to be at least 12 to officially get one. She’s been waiting 2 years already!
Classes last about 90 minutes and are held thrice a week in a spotless, well ventilated hall awash with natural light. When you look out of the big windows you see quite a bit of greenery around.
A typical class starts with the students - the majority of them ladies - lining up according to seniority and doing a few minutes of “chi” breathing.
At the end of this, the instructor and the students bow to each other and then everyone salutes the school flag by crossing the right hand, palm down, across the left chest. Then we all sit down for several minutes of meditation with our eyes closed.
We come out of meditation, stand up and then the real action starts – we do about 30 to 40 minutes of stretching and other strengthening exercises. At this point the instructor gives us a minute’s break to drink some water and when we come back we learn and practice punches, kicks, blocks, moving drills, sparring routines and combinations of all these for another 30 or 40 minutes.
At the end of this we salute the flag and sit down for another short session of meditation to bring the body rhythm back to “normal”. When we come out of closing meditation we stand up and repeat aloud the 5 codes and 7 tenets of Tang Soo Do:
- Loyalty to country
- Obedience to parents
- Honor friendship
- No retreat in battle
- In fighting, choose with sense and honor
- Respect & Obedience
- Indomitable Spirit
I really love that part. The words tease and awaken something deep inside me. We all then raise our right hand in a fist, with the our left hand crossed across our stomach, and happily cry “Tang Soo!”and clap like children, for the sheer joy of feeling so alive.
Finally, we walk up to our instructor in a single file, in the order of our seniority, bow, make eye contact, smile, shake her hand, and quietly say “thank you” in Korean before dispersing.
There is soft, pleasant music always playing from a Bose i-pod port but I am seldom consciously aware of it during the 90 minutes of class. There is almost no chatting between students during class. There is an elegant protocol that governs every activity, every move we make while inside the training hall. The instructor is as patient as the hills but she can also be as tough as nails. In any given class, there are usually all levels of students - from rank beginners to fairly senior ones – and everybody gets the attention they require. Some classes are quite relaxed but some are brutal. But they are all invariably fun. Well, that’s the kind of martial arts class I go to.
As in most martial arts, in TSD too there is a system of colored belts to measure the progress of a student. Beginners wear white belts and the first color belt they test for is the Orange Belt. This usually happens after three to six months of training.
The instructor is the only person who decides if a student is ready for a test. It is not a student’s birthright and he or she cannot request, much less demand, to be tested. Tests are held roughly once in three months on a weekend morning. A notice is put up a week earlier with the names of the students appearing for the test and the level they would be testing for. Also, for each level there is a small written assignment to be submitted in advance. The subject for the first level assignment is “Why do I do Tang Soo Do?”
My test was scheduled for early April; I submitted my assignment, paid the test fees and couldn’t wait to get my first colored belt. I started picturing myself proudly wearing my Orange Belt in class.
I would have to tell all my friends about it. Tell my parents, too. Perhaps post a small, smug piece on my blog about it….
And then, a few days before the test day, I injured my foot during training and had to sit the test out. This was the second time I was missing a test. I was disappointed, but well, tough luck! Now I would have to wait for the next test in three months’ time. I resigned myself to more days of not learning any new techniques. It would soon be almost a year since I joined the class.
But this morning, the unexpected happened. I walked into class a few minutes late and vaguely sensed an increased focus on me from the instructor. Her daughter, who never trains with our morning class, was present. As I took my place in class, the instructor specifically asked me how I was feeling. I realized then that it was my test day!
Very occasionally, an unannounced test is held for one or more students who missed the scheduled test for whatever reason. My instructor, in her wisdom, had decided to accord me the privilege of being tested in the course of a regular class!
Tests are very challenging. But if you are expecting it, then it’s more or less OK. On the other hand, when it’s sprung on you on a Friday morning, with your mind already hazily zooming in on potential, delicious weekend excesses…then it’s…tough! On test day, all hell breaks loose.
Also, the poor co-students, especially the new ones who have never tested before, get caught unawares in the storm along with you… a little rain must fall into each life…;-)
And thus, this morning, I walked out after class, exhausted, drained, spent but at the same time energized, excited, ecstatic – the proud owner of a brand new Orange Belt!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
For thousands like them, the pavement is their universe. You can see several generations of several families in clusters all over North Madras (where I grew up) and other poor pockets in the rest of the city. They live in the open and when it rains they huddle under the awnings of nearby shops or public buildings like schools and marriage halls.
The one defining characteristic of their lifestyle that springs to my mind is the periodic, high decibel, ganja and booze fuelled quarrels that break out between families. The protagonists are usually the women folk and the main topic of discussion during these quarrels is the sexual history of various members of the feuding families.
I learnt all the really colorful parts of my Tamil by listening to them as a child…
Monday, April 14, 2008
I approached him and asked if I could take his photograph. He looked at me for a few seconds and then with a wave of his hand said “Take as many photos as you want…”
After I had taken the photo he quizzed me about (1) Where I lived (2) Where I worked (3) Whether I was married (4) Where my parents lived and (5) My caste.
I provided a verbal, 5 minute resume and was bidding goodbye to him when a young chap ran up and asked “Uncle, why you taking my grandfather’s photo?”
“Coz’ he looks good,” I replied, with a smile. “In fact, he looks better than you do!”
“Then you take one photo of me also with him!”
He commanded his grandfather to pose with him, and after the photo was taken, pointed out his house to me and made me promise to bring him copies of the photos.
The board in Tamil reads “Computer Astrology Rs.5”. (“Computer” has been transliterated.)
You pay him Rs.5 and name your star sign. He hands you a headset which you put on and you can listen to a recorded message detailing what the future has in store for you.
From the look on the face of this young customer, the message is probably inspirational. If it helps him face the rest of the day – or the rest of his life – with a spring in his step and a song on his lip, then why not?
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Thursday, April 3, 2008
This cobbler from Tamil Nadu told me that he had been plying his trade for the last 30 years at more or less the same spot on CMH Road. I intend to do a small video of his manual magic someday.
This was near Ulsoor. I believe that the cart is a ceremonial "chariot" used for temple processions. The able bodied gentleman and a couple of his friends had "borrowed" it for a little moonlight transportation service.
I love dogs.
I also love tigers and hawks and sharks, I guess. But dogs, man….. I simply LOVE the creatures and I think they love me too. I have made friends with weird, neurotic canine bastards at 2 in the morning on strange deserted streets, I've met totally lovable ones and dainty doggies and haughty ones too. And I do believe that I communicate at a special level with dogs. Look at this Bengalooru St. Bernard looking at me, for example. I met her off Bannerghata Road…..Tia is her name, her seedy looking ‘owner” told me. May she live long and live happy.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
You may have come across the word "nee" used as in "Madhuri Nene nee Dixit". That means that the lady is now called Madhuri Nene but was born Madhuri Dixit. “Nee” is the adjective form of the French verb "naitre" or "to be born". The noun form is "naissance" or "birth" and "renaissance" is simply "rebirth".
The classic use of the term "Renaissance" is to describe the movement (mainly artistic) across Europe from the 14th to the 17th centuries which saw the gradual transformation of that continent from the late middle ages to more or less what we fondly call "modernity".
As is true with all history, it is written by the victors and we seldom get to hear the other side of the story.
I have always wondered where the "re" part of the word "renaissance", as used in this context, came from. The people who today so proudly lay claim to this term were, at the start point of this so-called “rebirth”, in the bloody "middle ages". And as you surely know, the term "Middle Ages" is synonymous with "lack of civilization". So, what were these guys being "REborn" into? Are they insinuating that they once had a glorious civilization that somehow decayed into the middle ages and then they clawed their way back via this fabled “renaissance? You bet that’s what they are insinuating. Nay, asserting.
And that’s the tragedy of recorded history - written by the victors to shamelessly propagate expedient myths.
My point is that the Europeans are laying claim, in one fell swoop with this word “renaissance”, to the entire cultural, political and social “golden age” of Classical Antiquity which saw its apogee in the Greek and Roman civilizations - a period that roughly stretched from the 8th century BC to the 5th century AD. This heritage is what purportedly they were being “reborn” into.
I’m no historian but I think that this is not historically, technically or factually correct. Continental Europe, with the exception of Greece and Rome, was never “born” into that heritage in the first place….
Even if Greece and Rome were the epicenters of the “golden period”, the breadth and the vistas of this era were southward (North Africa) and eastward (Asia Minor, Middle East and farther East) looking. This age was the fruition of a complex process of cross-pollination between Mediterranean, Central Asian and Middle Eastern cultures which were already highly evolved at that point in history…
While most of Europe was inhabited by barbarians who still had a long way to go before they could even consider themselves “born” in terms of "civilization". Much less, as the term “renaissance" blithely insinuates, “reborn”….
Am I getting too heavy? Fuck it...we'll get into that in detail again another time, preferably after a couple of stiff ones.
If that’s a tricky one from pop history, here’s one from pop culture closer home for you.
One of the associated terms of "renaissance" is "renaissance man". This was used to describe the eminent personalities of the period like Leonardo Da Vinci (yup, the guy who made the Code, god bless him!) and Michelangelo.
More recently, some rather over enthusiastic, imagination challenged, desi journalists have rehashed the term to describe miscellaneous prominent, contemporary INDIAN personalities. I have no grouse per se with the individuals who have been accorded this sobriquet by our page 3 press. But, I certainly feel that we Indians tend to over-dramatize and thus trivialize the achievements of individuals with our weakness for hyperbole. What sense does it make to compare, say, a retired Post Master General, however accomplished, with Da Vinci and Michelangelo?! Who defines the parameters of excellence that one must achieve to qualify as a “renaissance man” in India? Does Shobha De, for example, qualify? Or, MF Husain?
I’m very interested in knowing what “renaissance person” means to you and if you have ever come across one.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
A glimpse of Cunard Lines' "QUEEN VICTORIA" from outside the harbour wall...I read in the newspaper that Cunard describe this beauty as "a sonnet in motion". A classic, sinful cruise is definitely a "must do before I die" activity for me.
A family carrying lit candles at 2.30 AM Easter Sunday on Mount Road, across from the Bata showroom corner. There was hard, intermittent rain that whole night long. On the way back from my friend Apu's house in T'Nagar, I saw several families dressed in their (Easter) Sunday best, struggling across the street-wide puddles and ruined pavements on their way to church. This family stood out for the sheer grace and self-evident devotion with which they slowly navigated their way to early morning mass...
A fully loaded bike on Poonamalee High Road near the Central Station. The guy is carrying a load of waste cloth.
Making friends with a kitten in a "potti kadai" (literally "box shop") in Chetput. There were two of them and, like all kittens, completely adorable.
Che lives! In a North Madras backstreet!!!
I wonder exactly how many people really know who this bearded weirdo on the Communist Party Of India (Marxist) graffiti was and what he stood for.
I haven't seen or read the "Motorcycle Diaries" movie/book as yet, but my friend Chandermouli (Mouli) did a well researched presentation on Che for our 3rd Level course a couple of years ago when we were both learning Spanish in Bangalore. The presentation was in Spanish, but we have both forgotten our "senoritas", "margaritas" and "tapas" since...
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
It was after 2 in the morning of a Saturday night and MG Road was deserted except for the stray reveler straggling home, like yours truly. The odd auto cruised past with the driver scanning the likely marks.
I was tired and had a deep buzz going. A little nagging voice of good sense somewhere deep inside my head kept telling me that I should go home and sleep. Fair enough, I thought – it had not been a bad Saturday at all!
That’s when this autorickshaw drew up alongside me with a seemingly customer-friendly bandy at the wheel. He explained how he had not had any decent “savari” (fare) the whole day long and how I could pay him anything that I felt was reasonable. This is a standard ploy in Madras but rather rare in Bangalore. He seemed nice enough so I said “ok” and got in.
We were cruising comfortably along MG Road when just outside the Hotel Oberoi, he most politely asked me if I had enough cigarettes for the rest of the evening. When I checked my pack, true enough, I was down to my last 3 or so. I told him yes I needed cigarettes. By this time we had pulled up at a mobile (cycle mounted) teashop.
This hawker and a few dozen others like him are a standard feature at certain prominent spots in the deserted night streets of Bangalore. They sell cigarettes and miniscule plastic cups of hot, sweet tea dispensed from stainless steel containers. All types - from cops to BPO employees to vagrants - make pit stops at these “stalls” and move on.
Asif, the auto bandy, requested me to remain seated in the auto while he went to fetch my cigarettes. We set off again. After a couple of hundred meters, halfway home, just before turning off towards Ulsoor he casually asked me if I felt like one last beer for the evening. I asked him back where we might find beer at 3 in the morning. He replied that there were “places”.
I was intrigued, so I said yes I would have a beer. He made a U-turn and we went all the way back up MG Road and then down some side streets to the corner of Brigade Road. Again Asif ensured that I got "drive-by" service. A lukewarm Kingfisher and a plastic cup were delivered to the auto and the bottle was opened.
As I sat in the auto in a deserted side street sipping my beer , Asif solicitously asked if I were hungry.
On a whim I said I wouldn’t mind a nice mutton biriyani. Pat came the reply that sure it was possible - Sivaji Nagar mutton biriyani was the best in class.
And we set off again through some beautiful deserted neighborhoods dotted with lovely buildings of great character. The sodium vapor light and the still silence gave the streets an unreal feel - as if we were scooting through an abandoned film set.
There are still many, many delightful corners of Bangalore that haven’t morphed into grotesque steel, glass and concrete barrios. The steroidal IT/BPO wave of affluence might wash them away as yet but I’m hoping for the best.
We turned some tight corners and suddenly found ourselves in a street lined with restaurants. There was lively movement on the street. Many of the restaurants were downing their shutters – it was after 3 AM – but a few were still open. Asif enquired in two or three about the quality and freshness of their mutton biriyani before choosing one.
We gorged on fairly good biriyani accompanied by some superlative mutton bone soup. After a round of pleasantries with the man behind the cash counter (galla potti) we headed back towards MG Road.
On the way, on Cubbon Road I think, I made Asif stop the auto to photograph some ancient cannons. An insomniac military guard challenged us and after a half hearted interrogation he bid us goodbye.
It was 4 or so before Asif finally dropped me home. What started off as a fifteen minute, five kilometer trip home had somehow transformed into a two hour, twenty kilometer jaunt.
A couple of days ago when I called Asif on the number he had given me, the first thing he asked was if I had eaten….a truly solicitous bandy, if ever there was one!
If you are in Bangalore sometime and want to go on a fun auto ride, just give me a shout and I’ll give you his number.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
On the second Saturday of March I decided to change all that. There was an art exhibition that I had read about in the papers and very much wanted to see. Also, the Bangalore Women’s Open was on with a cluster of marquee names from international tennis.
I do not play tennis nor am I an aficionado of the sport but if Serena and Venus were playing in your city, and you had a half-way chance of actually going and seeing them do their thing with your own eyes then you would be stupid not to grab that chance, right? The clincher was that the two sisters were pitted against each other in one of the two semi-finals.
I decided to take my chances with auto-rickshaws for the day.
I first went to the exhibition at the Gallery Sumukha near Double Road. The artist was 84 year old K.G. Subramanyam, also apparently known as Mani-da. The paintings were quirky, fulsome and had intriguing balance. They all had the unmistakable touch of a seasoned master. There was a pervasive odor of lust and illicit sex in many of his works. His sense of small spaces, the fractured perspectives and Dahl-esque narratives drew me into several of the frames.
It is a very acute and indefinable joy - mingled with longing - to stand in front of a masterpiece, or as in this case, several masterpieces, knowing that the joy is borrowed and ephemeral. If I had the money, I would buy lots and lots and lots more art. When it comes to art I am unapologetic about my desire to “possess”.
As I strolled through the gallery I became aware that I was under the slightly suspicious gaze of two ladies. I guessed they were the owners. They seemed to know that I was not a prospective buyer and they were suitably haughty.
They were right - I definitely was not a prospective buyer. The bigger works, some 2 feet by 3 feet or so, mostly gouache on paper, were priced at 30,000,00 rupees. The smaller works, about A4 or so, ink or pencil on paper I think, were 150000 rupees.
From the gallery I took another auto to the Cubbon Park where the Bangalore Open was on at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association’s courts.
There was a crowd jostling around the ticket counters. A couple of morons inside were lording it over, taking a perverse pleasure in telling everyone that everything was sold out. I could see them shuffling bundles of tickets around. They selectively chose people from the crowd and informed them that there were only “Rs.825” tickets available. A sort of “can you afford it?” was implied in their cock-sucker tone of voice. I bought myself a ticket without getting into a pissing competition with them and strolled through.
The stands were crowded but it definitely was not a full house. The first semi-final between Yan Zi of China and Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder was on. The Swiss champ was right on top of the situation and the overall feel was desultory. Everybody was waiting for the “sisters”.
On my way in I had noticed a Kingfisher counter. So I asked the gent in the next seat to hold mine and went out to get supplies. Not sure what the connection is but at the Madras Open too I had noticed a Mercedes Benz display. The 2 sleek monsters on display drew another longing sigh from me (after Mani-da's works) and I consoled myself with a couple of photographs.
The Kingfisher counter was expectedly crowded. I loved the fact that this was Mallya’s turf and that I could legally quaff a pint or four while watching an international tennis match.
The powers that be in Madras are spectacularly blinkered when it comes to rationalizing the politics of alcohol consumption in my beloved home state. I cannot rave and rant enough about the soul scorching, demeaning nature of the drinking experience in Tamil Nadu….I’m working on a piece on that. I elbowed and excused myself to the counter and bought myself a few cans and went back to my seat.
Between sets and matches there were snatches of 70s and 80s pop numbers being blasted on the public address system. The combo of my first, fast pint and “I believe in miracles…you sexy thing, you sexy thing” got my feet tapping and I was ready for a nice evening of spectator sport.
The compere or somebody announced the sisters. He gave a nice intro about their individual accomplishments and shared the fact that they were meeting each other for the 15th time in international matches. The head on head record till date was 7-7. Woweee!!!
I love spectatorship, spectator-hood, whatever - the state of being a spectator. I love the feel of huge crowds, packed auditoriums, stadiums, big ticket entertainers, the sound of collective screaming. I would have made a mean Roman at a circus.
The gladiators finally came on… and man! what fine examples of womanhood they were! I’m not sure if this sounds derogatory and I certainly don’t mean it that way…the Williams sisters reminded me of magnificent, thoroughbred, frisky fillies. They pranced onto the court and their overwhelming physical fitness was a tribute to God’s gift of life itself.
The match was not a benchmark of great tennis but the difference in quality from the earlier semi-final was evident. These 2 girls were from a different planet. There were brief flashes of brilliance that far outshone the high points of the earlier match.
I shouted myself hoarse with chants of “go..OOO, Veeenusssss, GO..oooo” but she eventually lost.
I made some friends in the stand who took turns to go out for replenishments. In the vicinity there was a clutch of cops who seemed a trifle disoriented by all the drinking and screaming. Somewhere, I have read the expression “didn’t know whether to scratch his watch or wind his arse”…kind of describes those cops in the stadium that evening.
When the match was finally over, Serena, the winner, hit several autographed tennis balls into the stands. None came anywhere near me.
I trooped out with the crowd, jumped a low gate and found myself on Kasturba Road. It was exactly 11 and I headed towards St.Mark’s Road. They were just shooing the patrons out of the Hard Rock Cafe and Koshy’s had its shutters already down. Not a problem if you are ever in that vicinity at that hour. Opposite the Empire Hotel at the corner of Church Street and Museum Road there is literally a hole in a wall manned by some polite bandicoots. They can get you your favorite poison till past 2 in the morning. The entire road was packed with people and cars and motorcycles. There was also a very quiet police jeep in the middle of the mess.
I got myself a couple of Kingfishers at an exorbitant price (Rs.100 per bottle) and chatted with some extremely drunk Punjabi IT engineers till about 2.
After they left, a family of Tamil speaking pavement dwellers exchanged some niceties with me and posed for photos. The girl in the photo said she had three children.
Later, as I passed the shuttered entrance of KC Das, she called out goodbye to me from the dark entrance. I peered into the darkness and saw her lying next to a stoned looking guy (not the one in the photo).
I kept walking. I thought I would get back home and catch some sleep.
I avoided the dense pack of auto hyenas on the Church Street corner and strode down a forlorn and disheveled looking MG Road. The scars of the on-going Metro construction were hurtful to the eye and the soul.
As I walked down, heading towards Trinity Circle, an auto sidled up and a very polite auto bandy offered to take me home. My fully loaded Saturday was not over as yet.
I’ll tell you about Auto Asif and the rest of the evening in a couple of days. Ciao and cheers till then.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Last May, I spent a happy, sunny day discovering the neighborhood.
To me Bangalore is a lop-sided city. I live in Indra Nagar and all the galleries and auditoriums and other venues for interesting events seem to be on the "other" side.
When I mentally rummage through the numerous shows and concerts and exhibitions featured in the newspapers I hardly ever find any for which attendance does not involve a nightmarish drive (and a frustrating search for a parking spot) or a tic-tac-toe auto-rickshaw adventure. “Tic-tac-toe” because (a) you might find an extremely decent auto-rickshaw driver or (b) you might stumble upon a complete bastard or (c) meet just about every type else in between. Anyway, the very thought of the journey kills the enthusiasm for a soul uplifting outing.
It is also a curious feature of the Bangalore cultural scene, or so it seems to me, that most of the really interesting events are scheduled in the middle of the week. If you work for a corporate then you know that it is well nigh impossible to leave office in time to go and catch a show or a performance on a working day. You need to tell a truly dark lie to escape and I reserve those for the days of my worst hangovers.
What’s left then is the weekend.
Weekends usually start with recuperation - recuperation from an over enthusiastic Friday night. By the time you are even half-way fit to face what’s left of the weekend the sun’s rays are already slanting in from the wrong side of the sky.
Then there are the myriad chores that you have been saving up (postponing) all week long – washing machine load; ironing man; telephone bill; bust bathroom bulb; state visit by her exalted haughtiness the Maid; shopping at the local “supermarket” for useless junk (just because you still have all those Sodexho coupons); visit to the temple and so on. When you are more or less done with your “to do” list you are so pooped that you need a beer or two to regain your joie de vivre and there goes what's left of your Saturday.
Sunday comes with a feeling of impending loss… loss of a weekend that might have been better spent. A weekend that might have been replete with enriching activities like art exhibitions and dance performances, dog shows and kite flying, movies and monuments…Sunday quickly grows old with the gnawing feeling that you should get out and do something.
CMH Road is the height of "happening" for the BPO and IT employee denizens of the scores of overpriced rabbit warrens from Old Madras Road to Murugeshpalya and Sunday upon Sunday I too mindlessly walked that depressing road amongst the jostling swarm to get a second hand sense of having “gotten out and done something” afterall during the weekend.
And then, just like that, Sunday too is gone and the feeling of loss is suddenly real. You did fuck-all and now the whole weekend is history. Half of the time, on Monday morning back at the office, you don’t even remember what you did since Friday night! So much for soul enrichment.
NEXT: A FULLY LOADED SATURDAY!
Thursday, March 6, 2008
I’ve known him for years now. I met him at the Alliance Francaise de Madras where I was learning French and generally hanging out. The path breaking Tamil theatre group “Koothu-p-pattarai” used to rehearse in the auditorium on the top floor. I knew most of the gang because I used to dabble in some French language amateur theatre and we all had common friends. Natesh was an occasional visitor at the rehearsals then. Much later I learnt that he is the son of Na. Muthuswamy, the founder of “Koothu-p-pattarai”. (click on images to enlarge)
My favourite story about him dates to the time when he was a student at the Madras College Of Arts and Crafts. As narrated by Natesh, apparently the Lalit Kala Akademy organized a painting exhibition in Delhi. I’m not sure if this is an annual affair, but the Akademy wanted to buy some of the best works on display for its collection. The selectors or judges or jury or whatever, one of whom was the late artist K.M. Adimoolam, decided to buy Natesh’s painting. The prices were usually placed on a small sticker at the back of the painting and when the judges turned the painting over to find out the price they found that it was a little too good a bargain for their “artistic” sensibilities.
Natesh had priced his painting at “3 p” (three paise)!!!
The jury were so offended that they not only did not buy the painting but also kind of unofficially black-listed Natesh. He tells me that Adimoolam did not speak to him for ten years after that incident.
I wish I had been at that exhibition to grab that painting! When I called him last week he said that for his current exhibition, he has priced his canvases at 1.5 L each! I believe that this is still an amazing bargain because, for me, Natesh is a genius.
Another small but not insignificant factoid about Natesh – he never signs his paintings or drawings on the front. He might sometimes sign them on the frame at the back. Now, you tell me what that tells you about the guy.
And, here’s a sub-factoid on the same subject: I once was lucky enough to have the luxury of choosing about half a dozen pencil and charcoal drawings for myself from one of his sketch-books. I had the joy of flipping through almost a hundred of his drawings and picking and choosing what I wanted. And, imagine this - I had the privilege of demanding of Natesh that he sign the ones I chose. He did.
I have posted pictures of some of them. Not sure if you can notice the signatures.
If you visit his website there is an article by Sadanand Menon on Natesh and his recently concluded exhibition of new canvases - “Missing Link” (at the very same Lalit Kala Akademi, Rabindra Bhavan, New Delhi 110001. From the 5th to the 11th of March 2008. Gallery Nos. 7 & 8. 11am to 7pm.)
I accept that Sadanand has described Natesh and his angst-driven existence better than I perhaps ever can. I quote from the article: Here is a youngster who, with his anarchic intuition, has consistently resisted all the pitfalls of career, success, fame and contentment. It is as if he sets out everyday, in his own inimitable way, to ask himself, “What crime or infamy am I going to support today?” and then sets about consciously working against it – almost working against himself, as it were.
That’s Natesh for you, a true-blue, in-your-face, screw-you, “real art, no fart” bandicoot!
Friday, February 29, 2008
In the meantime, take a look at these pictures. They are shots of a fabulous ceiling mural that this guy did. I have seen him with my own eyes, work for hours on end on it, lying on his back on a scaffolding...he wasn't even paid much for it - just enough money to buy the required materials.
And guess what? They recently white-washed it! Oh, yes, they did! It's gone. You can't see it no more.
I'll leave you with that thought while I collect my thoughts and other material around this original 24 karat bandy....
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I got on to the Guwahati Express at around 11.30 on Friday night at the Cantonment Station, hoping to catch up on some sleep. I had already had a couple of Cobras and was half-way through McCall-Smith’s “Tears of the Giraffe”.
Just another regular, short train journey home was what I was expecting.
The first sign of something interesting afoot was when I found a guy sitting with his feet stretched out on my seat. He asked me for my seat number. I told him my seat number and he put his feet down to let me sit down. His buddies were lolling at supreme ease on the other seats and one of them was blasting “Hare Ram! Hare Ram!!” on his mobile phone. I broke the ice by asking the seat-keeper whether he and his buddies were going all the way to Guwahati. Yes, he said. They were Air-Force Police personnel. They had attended a “mental toughness” training in Bangalore and were getting back to their station in Guwahati. They would travel almost another 2 days before reaching their destination.
They were passing each other a 1 liter pepsi bottle but the stuff in the bottle didn’t look like cola and I didn’t have to think too hard to guess what was in the bottle.
When the train stopped at Bangalore East or KR Puram - not sure which - I saw the boys get down and ask around the platform vendors for cigarettes. I knew from experience that they were not going to find any so I called them over and gave them a couple of cigarettes. After that, the ice was completely broken and they positively forced me ;-) to have a swig from the pepsi bottle. Just as I had guessed it was some kind of Army issue whisky. One thing led to another and soon we were animatedly discussing the relative merits of the Israeli army and the French Foreign Legion, the Siachen and the Gripen and other things martial. The whisky had a perfumy flavour to it but it went down smoothly enough.
By the time the bottle was emptied and we finally hit the sack it was past 3 in the morning and I had clean forgotten to set an alarm for myself.
I slept well enough and woke up at around 8.30.
Madras had come and Madras had gone. I had slept a little too well! I had slept right through the 30 minute halt at Chennai Central and had continued sleeping for another 2 hours while the train had rattled its way from Madras to Guwahati.
The next stop was scheduled for around noon, God knew where, and it looked like it was going to be a wasted day and a wasted weekend.
I got myself a cup of tea from a one-handed kid and went to the toilet to smoke a ciggy when the train suddenly slowed down and groaned to a halt. Without a second thought I stubbed the cigarette out, collected my stuff and jumped off the train and staggered into bright sunshine.
I had jumped off the wrong side of the train and I was between two tracks. The one-handed boy had followed me to the door and he motioned to me to move away from the other track. A few seconds later a train zipped past in the opposite direction and the whiplash rocked me back on my feet.
My train started moving too and I was soon left standing all alone in what looked like the middle of nowhere.
There was a tiny station - I soon found out that its name was Doravaruchatram - about 500 meters down the track and I wobbled through the station master's office and across a small field onto a national highway. I crossed the road and the first thing I saw was a wine-shop replete with a pictorial pantheon of Hindu deities. I said a silent prayer and asked the wine-shop man for a beer. The only beer available was Armstrong (strong beer). I put the bottle in my backpack and asked where I might find some tiffin. He pointed down the road.
A young share-auto driver was at the wine-shop exchanging all his small notes for big ones from the shop guy. I asked him if he would drop me in Chennai. He said it was a 100 kilometer ride and that at 7 rupees a km it would cost me 700 rupees. I might have almost gone with him. Luckily for both of us, some passers-by who had joined the conversation scolded him and told him it was a stupid idea, what with an AP registered autorickshaw and all. They suggested that I take the "local" (train) from Sulurpet station which was about 10 or 12 km away. The auto guy and I sheepishly agreed that it was probably a better idea but I anyway hired him to find me some tiffin and then take me to the station.
The tiffin place was a small thatched shed and the food was cooked and brought from the owner’s house in the field behind. It took about 10 minutes to find a bottle opener but finally I settled down to wake up properly with my Armstrong (strong beer). The tiffin – 3 dosas, 2 vadas and 2 idlis with unlimited sambar and papulu podi– was delicious. The auto-boy and one of the passers-by who had suggested the train option invited themselves to my table and the 3 breakfasts cost me all of 74 rupees!
The auto ride to the train station was pleasant and I noticed sign-boards for a bird sanctuary - Nelapattu - on the way. I think we also passed a village called Tapa Indlu on the way. Don't know why but it reminded me of Machu Pichu.
At the Sulurpet station, on a whim, I bought a first class ticket – I’ve always wanted to do that on a local train. I still had an hour or so to kill, so I wandered out of the station and asked the lone auto guy where the nearest wine shop was. He said I could go straight and turn left or go straight the other way and turn right, but if he took me there and brought me back to the station it would cost me 20 rupees. I took the auto. At the wine shop, Sanju, the auto-rickshaw man had a 90 whisky while I had myself a slow Kingfisher.
I was back at the station just about in time for the train and I finally staggered out of the sunshine into the first class compartment which was empty except for a couple of gents in lungis catching up on their sleep.
I spent the next hour or so watching the people and the landscape and trying to memorize the names of the stations we passed - Akkampet, Tada, Arambakkam, Elavur, Gummudipundi, Kavaraipettai and so on - and wishing that I had remembered to bring my camera along.
I finally reached Basin Bridge station sometime around 3 or 4 PM and took an auto and reached home about 12 hours late. Ooof!
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Like I told you the last time, not all bandicoots are bad and some of them are downright loveable. The one I want to introduce you to today is actually quite a chic and resourceful bandy!
My friend Agathe is French and she lives and works in Paris. She did her doctoral thesis on some esoteric, ancient sanskrit mathematical treatise. I am mega impressed by this fact and love introducing Agathe to my friends and talking about her every chance I get. Agathe has traveled in more countries than anybody else I know. The most recent postcards I have received from her were from China and then Jordan. Yes, Agathe is the kind of person who sends hand-written postcards with exotic stamps on them from exotic places around the globe.
Agathe is a bandicoot. A “bandy” in the sense that she loves junk, rubbish.
Some years ago, Agathe lived in Japan for an extended period of time – not sure what she was doing there. She told me that in Japan, just as in many highly economically developed societies, there are the extreme rich and the very poor. And between these two extremes there is a huge middle-class that is the engine that drives consumerism. Some of the Japanese middle-class are wasteful and gadget fixated. These people simply throw away perfectly good things. That’s right. They systematically buy the latest models of just about everything – televisions, fridges, laptops, vacuum cleaners and what have you. They simply must have the latest model. So, out go all the old televisions and fridges and bicycles and telephones and just about everything else. This section of Japanese society simply discard all their junk or “gomi” as is it called in Japanese. And much of it is perfectly good stuff!
There are designated spaces in each apartment block for leaving the “gomi” and this was the network of Ali Baba’s caves where Agathe rooted for treasure.
She first started off by more or less entirely furnishing her apartment with “gomi”. Word soon spread and her (mainly expatriate) friends started giving her wish-lists of stuff they couldn’t afford or didn’t want to splurge on. Agathe would scour the “gomi” dumps of Kyoto and salvage the stuff that her friends needed. She soon became so adept at “sourcing” stuff that one friend even gave her the exact configuration of a PC that he wanted and Agathe helped him put the machine together!
I’m sure that there is some kind of “reuse, recycle, refurbish etc.,” message in there for all of us, but I’m too lazy to bend my mind around it right now.
Or, even a huge potential in a chain of grey market, second-hand stores. Imagine shipping in containers of practically brand-new Toshiba laptops and selling them for, say, 3000 rupees! And charge the suckers another 3K for English key-boards. LOL. Who knows, the Japanese municipal authorities might even pay you to do it. An all around win-win situation.
Agathe is now back in Paris, working for the government, and she is as ardent a seeker of “gomi” as ever. The last time I visited her, she took me on a delightful crawl of wine bars all over that magnificent city. The theme of the day that she had chosen was “cheese and wine”…..The third or so bar we went to was in a quiet side street and we were lolling around a tiny table on the tiny sidewalk, sipping a nice glass of some chilled white wine. The neighborhood was “comfortable” middle-class. Across the street from us there was a gated apartment block. As we watched some Arab kids crawling right in and out of the gaps in the grills of the locked gates, a lady walked out and carefully placed a lamp-shade and a couple of other things in the huge garbage container. A minute or so later, Agathe uncoiled herself like a plump python and strolled across the street. She examined the garbage container as intently as if she were contemplating a bracelet at a Champs-Elysees shop window , then very deliberately picked up the lamp-shade and strolled triumphantly back to our table. The crawl ended sometime well after midnight and I took turns all evening carrying that piece of “gomi” carefully all over Paris.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
The big ones amongst these are (1) Organizations That Are Not Meritocracies like state owned banks, state run colleges, state organizations like RTO offices etc., (2) The Unorganized Sector like "house brokering", or house maintenance services like plumbing and electrical services and to a lesser extent (3) The Lower Echelons Of Just About Any Office.
The common thread in all these environments is that high quality performance is not a prerequisite for success and in most cases there is a lack of a defined or strictly implemented moral code and a framework of ethical behaviour.
In general, bandicoots are bottom feeders who, in their lives, have replaced ethics with greed and excellence with expedience.
Thus, you will find a bunch of bandicoots in a RTO premises who will promise to get you an international driving licence delivered at your doorstep without you even having to get behind a wheel. For a price, ofcourse.
Or, let's say you are looking for someone to fix a broken flush in your toilet. Chances are that you will end up having a close encounter with a Class A Bandicoot. He - it's usually a "he" - will not only make sure that he screws up the entire plumbing fairly well but will then force you to buy a whole bunch of useless accessories that he will collect a commission on from the hardware store. If you insist that you personally get the accessories then he'll hold you to ransom by dissappearing for a day or two leaving your toilet in a state of total disrepair. The bandicoot will stretch a two hour job into a two day marathon and make a mess of it. A bandicoot has no conception of a job well done. Its all about "how much can you hit this sucker for?". The helpless sucker being either you or yours truly or someone else just like you and me.
Ever tried renting an apartment in Madras? Wow! that really brings them on! They'll dawdle and they'll straggle. They'll lead you on endless wild-goose rides. They'll make you hang outside locked doors like forsaken puppies. They'll talk cock. They'll fart. They'll do just about everything but show you a house or an apartment that suits your purpose or budget. And if by some fabulous stroke of luck you do find a home, you will probably end up with three different bandies all claiming that he is the rightful recipient of the brokerage.
You are also certain to spot bandies in and around most offices. Here the diversity ratio is more equitable. The admin departments are particularly flush with bandies. Receptions and finance departments are also quite kind on bandy populations.
Well, I'm feeling kinda drained after reliving some of my tangles with bandies. But before signing off for the day, let me clarify that not all bandies are bad bandies. There are many that are quite lovable. I hope I'll eventually get a chance to introduce those too to you.
Have a great weekend and if you are a beer drinker have one on me - preferably a Cobra!
Friday, February 8, 2008
Anyway...that's neither here nor there because what I want to talk to you about is this fascinating sub-species I love watching called "(human) bandicoots".
I didn't come up with that term to denote this type of person. I first heard the term used by my sometimes friend, total non-philosopher and certified mis-guide, Mr. Sudhakar. More power to him and perhaps more on him later.
In the animal world, bandicoots are large rats. They are nocturnal, urban-dwelling, beady-eyed and adept at escaping harm. They live in those unspeakable places that large rats live in. You seldom notice junior or sub-adult bandicoots. But they are so adept at survival that probably they all live to be quite old.
And bandicoots are fat. All of them.
"(Human) Bandicoots" or "bandies" in short, are much like their cousins the "real" bandicoots. In fact human bandicoots get their name from the fact that they are so similar to their animal behave-alikes. The only difference is that human bandies are not necessarily nocturnal. In fact they thrive in just about any location and situation which supports human activity. And, by jove, do they thrive! (to be continued)