Coming back to ‘settle’ in Bangalore has been a dream for me. A quintessential Bangalorean never migrates out of the city. The idea is that if we can find a nice pensionable [not necessarily fashionable] and secure job in the city, we should be sacrificing the lure of extra money or position. Why take the risk? Satisfaction with status quo is something that we all love, and therefore the word ‘adjust’ is the best adjective that describes the city and its state of mind. Having been a regular visitor in all these years of absence has helped me to get an insider perspective and not be shocked at the changes that have happened to the city. It continues to be laid back in many ways, chaotic in some and suddenly enterprising and dynamic in more ways than one. From tolerance to intolerance to accommodation – we find this all happening at the same time. We love our Rajani Saar’s [Name: Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, mother tongue: Marathi, good at Kannada, superhero in Tamil] movies, take pride in the fact that he used to be a Bangalorean and a Kannadiga, but cannot tolerate a neighbouring state asking for water. And water manifests itself in the pride of the language and suddenly we find the flutter of red and yellow flags all over the city. The colours are a passport to safety in times of peril.
A statue of Tiruvalluvar wrapped up to be unveiled for years suddenly found sunshine, thanks to a somewhat stable situation leading to a mutual unveiling of a statue of the Tamilian saint-poet with that of the Kannada Saint-Poet Sarvajna in Chennai. Something that could have brought the city to flames just passed off as one more “city engagement” in 2009. As a Bangalorean I was never able to fathom the earlier outrage nor was I able to understand the serenity with which this event happened. Would we say that this is a turning point in the Tamil Kannada relationship? I am not sure yet.
But while the onslaught of ‘outsiders’ seems to be happening, we Kannadigas seem to be moving ahead with a sense of confidence and security. This confidence and security was recently re-established with a thumping Kannada Sahitya Sammelana [an annual literary festival] held in the heart of Bangalore with a record attendance, and the whole city painted in red and yellow. A 98 year old lexicographer Prof.G Venkatasubbaiah presided over the function with the youthful energy of a middle-ager. Neither did he look his age, nor did he show any signs of slowing down. He gave a sophisticated but non-compromising speech, including on corruption, which made the Chief Minister take note and respond. The bookshops in the sammelana were thronged and book sales were at an all-time high. Twenty years ago, we were lamenting that the language is dying a slow death and we need to protect the language. A leading writer gave a call for all the English Typewriters to be thrown into the Arabian Sea as we wanted to have Kannada as the official language and re-establish the primacy. Today, the language is showing such resilience that possibly makes a Kannadiga-Bangalorean more confident and thus more tolerant. While celebrating the grand festivity of letters I wonder: Would the sammelana be as successful and grand if for instance, it was held at a ground in Fraser Town or Banaswadi? Possibly there are geographies within geographies and cities within the metropolis.
The ever militant Karnataka Rakshana Vedike was in the forefront of organizing the sammelana, suddenly sparking a debate as to whether the fringe had become mainstream? Were they redefining their role? Do we still have the anxiety of the language? We should not, if we look at the fact that it is difficult to get the Wadia Hall in the Indian Institute of World Culture for a new book release, as it has been booked well in advance. Drop by on a lazy Sunday morning, you would have three speakers and an author on the stage, with a discount sale outside. There is no slowing down the writers, and the publishers. Obviously there is some reader in the background who is applauding and helping the sales.
Bangalore [yet to be formally called Bengaluru] has always lived in multiple worlds and possibly continues to do so. While the Times group took over an immensely popular Kannada Daily “Vijaya Karnataka”, they also did something that was the reserve of Gujarat and of the pink dailies. They decided to have the Times of India in Kannada. Not a new newspaper, a translation of the English ToI. Our most celebrated writer U R Ananthamurthy was aghast at this audacity - as much as he was passionate about bringing the sound and flavor of Kannada even in the name of the city as the biggest proponent of the change of name to Bengaluru.
While the language itself permeates across the state, it is a touchy big issue in the capital. All the intellectuals who worry about the language reside here and therefore we feel it is important to keep the language flag flying high. Sugata Srinivasaraju a correspondent with Outlook writes extensively on the anxiety of Kannada and Kannadigas, while Ram Guha without even uttering a word of Kannada claims that he is a proud Kannadiga and the Kannadigas are happy to have him around for an evening chat in the good old Koshy’s. Clearly it is not just about the language but much beyond.
It is about how we continue to embrace bookstores like Crossword and Landmark, while lamenting the closure of Shanbhag’s Premier Book Shop. How do we internalize and throng the Malls over the weekends paying obnoxious amounts to see Mungaaru Male in a PVR screen run by a Delhi based Ajay Bijli. Or the question as to whether we still have retained the core Bengaluru in the heart of the city, while robing ourselves with a metropolitan couture?
Take the older parts – Chamarajapet, Basavanagudi, Jayanagar and Gandhibazar. Where are the shiny malls and the multiplexes? In the busy Gandhibazaar, the vegetable market on the street is buzzing with activity while many a superstore has closed down. Vidyarthi Bhavan [new and renewed, but without much change] is continuing to make many a customer wait for the Benne Dose while Udupi Krishna Bhavan has opened shop a few hundred yards on the opposite side. So is KFC standing right opposite an immensely popular SLV restaurant and McDonalds – which replaced a chat joint Papdiwala. The threat of the Walmartization does not seem to have affected my local grocer who continues to do booming business. I have found many a branded superstore come and go. Nagasri bookstore and Prism continue to thrive while Odyssey in Jayanagar took a flight to the old terminal of the Delhi Airport!
In a way if you are a booming metropolis, it is quite natural that the surroundings become more cosmopolitan and we need to make our own ‘adjustments’ to internalize the new reality of Tandoori and Mughlai co-existing with Udupis and Darshinis.. have we made those adjustments?
What we embrace with love and affection is a mystery. A city famous for a by-two coffee in a Darshini has also embraced the home grown Café Coffee Day with equal aplomb, but whatever happened to the numerous theme pubs that cropped up years ago? A Pub World survives but NASA Oaken Cask, the Underground and the series of Ramada Pubs all seem to have vanished. Downing a draught beer by the mug or ordering a pitcher seems to be relegated to the background while more designer eating places come up.
The house of Nittoor where the grand old man Nittoor Srinivasa Rao lead a vegetarian life active and kicking for more than a century, has suddenly made way to a haute eating joint, laced with pastas, Mediterranean menu and wines to choose. We have taken to the designer cusine in our stride. The theme restaurants run by the BJN group did their pilot testing in Bangalore before moving out. In the process is there a lament? Of course. Try having a South Indian Thali in the evening. The Udupis of the city have decided to lead a double life – south during the day and tandoori in the night.
Currently what haunts a Bengalorean is Namma Metro, the construction of which never seems to end. Namma Metro, unlike the other metros in the world, happens to be Overhead. That is a loaded term. So is Byappanahalli from where it is expected to start. Byappa means a person who abuses. People are waiting with crossed fingers for the Metro to start, not necessarily because we want to take a ride in it, but basically because we want the construction inconveniences to end. The bus system has shown a remarkable turnaround and the transport corporation has the courage and conviction to announce bus days where they would claim to ferry all passengers by bus if only they oblige and park their respective private vehicles at home. While the confidence is applauded, the thinking at best could be wishful.
We can claim that Bangalore is the most Americanised of the cities in India. We have at least three patches where we do not keep to the left by rule. A hair-brained design of flyovers and underpasses has helped us to be proud of the most ill-conceived constructions. Luckily the criss cross flyover on the Richmond road has been ‘adjusted’ to make it functional two ways on one stretch!
I love the Bangalore airport. I love it because it represents continuity and does not make me feel at a loss. The experience in the new Bangalore airport represents a continuity from the old airport in the type of experience you get, long queues to check in, longer queues for security. How can we forget our roots. What is the change then? Well, you travel an average of 40 kilometers more to get the same experience. Indeed it is going to get worse as the put up a toll plaza just before the BIAL flyover. We are ever ready with a receipt book, be it a Ganesh festival pandal or a road there is a price to be paid just to stay where we are!
While it is understandable that there is large scale in-migration that helps the booming economy, it seems to be creating its own angst. The angst is not about the large number of people coming in. The angst is about what it is doing to the local unskilled labour. I am not sure if it has increased employment opportunities to Bengaloorigas or created a goldmine for in-migration. A friend of mine from the north was trying painfully to tell the security guard in a new generation apartment as to where he wanted to go in his contrived, newly learnt Kannada. Before I could take over to help him, the guard came to his rescue. The guard himself could not speak Kannada and was much more comfortable in Hindi. It was me who needed help from then on!
Possibly we should not complain. Possibly we should look at Mumbai. Possibly we should look at the cosmopolitan New York. Possibly we should go to the interior. Language gets threatened in the capital city as it thrives. Local trade gets threatened as it thrives. Local Films get threatened as they get an opening [one screen, one show, five days a week] in a multiplex and are no longer dependent on the benevolence of Doordarshan. Change certainly is happening. The question is whether it is a change for good. Well that of course is subjective and it might be good to take the rough with the smooth.