So it came to pass that for months on end my only and rare excursions out of Indra Nagar were to Koshy’s, the restaurant and Blossoms, the second hand bookshop on Church Street and very little else.
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.