Saturday, February 20, 2010

Where is the Bengaluru i loved?!

     I was born in Bangalore at just the right time. The timing could not have been better. I just managed to make it here before the gulmohars vanished forever from the roadside. Thankfully, I had a chance to set up a tent under the gulmohar tree on the road-side for 3 consecutive summers, before someone decided that the trees had to go. The vacant site opposite my house was getting all spruced up to welcome a new house on our street. And I remember three Ashok Leyland lorries standing shoulder to shoulder on the street. The roads in the residential areas were THAT wide. Well of course, only until Mrs.Iyer next door decided to dig up a 8x8 plot in front of her gate to plant her rose bushes. And then the guy who was building the new house in the vacant site decided he wanted a larger garage and conveniently replaced his concrete wall with a collapsible grill gate that made enough space for his car to stick it’s butt out into the road without actually putting him into trouble for taking up public space. When people decide to shout at him, all he has to do is to get the grills removed. No wall to pull down, no loss of money. And as long as he could be good friends with his neighbors, no problem either!
    The ancestral house in our village was built on a 5-acre plot. On all sides of the house, endless stretches of paddy fields and groundnut farms welcomed the winds into our compound. Within the compound, the lush garden on all 4 sides was my grandmother’s dream come true. With an open well, a flower-bed spread lavishly on more than an acre of land, people who visited my grandparents’ home, instantly fell in love with it! Well, again, only until Farmer Gibbs( I don’t know the guy’s name) decided to build an unsightly granary to completely block the view on one side  And what’s worse! His entire farmland, over the years, was slowly converted into a rice mill, with tractors milling down our private inroad, throwing up dust into the air and totally spoiling the ambience of the place :(

     If this is the case in a distant village, no prizes for guessing the state of cities like Bangalore. No more tree-lined avenues, no more independent villas and no more parks…Residential roads look like passages now and the main roads are meant for traffic jams and nothing else. Spacious temple compounds have now shrunken to the entrance of the temple, bringing the Gods to the edge of the street. Apartments line the skyline, whatever trees remain, is only because the guy who built the apartment block can put up a “ excellent landscaping” tag in his advertisement and charge an extra 2 lakhs for the feature ..
    What I miss the most though, are the sparrows. Last weekend, I drove down to visit my extended family at a village 3 hours from Bangalore and was so happy to see these little fellows strutting around on the terrace, picking up grains on the parapet wall. But yeah, not in flocks anymore…maximum 5-6 of them…but at least, they are not totally extinct yet...That’s a small consolation.
    Now that the city is totally packed, it’s time for the outskirts to squeeze in. Farmers get handsome amounts to let go of their land. And the entire expanse gets converted into 100 40x60 sites. “Enjoy the serenity, away from the city!” scream the advertisements. And slowly, as we continue to grow as a city, we will see houses here too and we will probably move into wildlife reserves very soon “ Live with the elephants!” would be the next ad in the papers…
    At this rate, the classic Indian dream of Roti, kapda and Makaan will begin to realize. With roti and kapda being almost readily available , the makhaan dream is now becoming true. Soon, each one of us will have a home of our own. One for you, one for your brother, one for your sister and one for your pet dog. And yes, we will have garages that peep into the streets, making our houses look like uneasy pregnants. We will zip around in our fancy cars if the traffic clears up. Life looks perfect.
   But what will be eat?! The farms are gone. We will import grains from some other country which has been sensible enough to retain some of it’s farms. And we will pay 500 rupees for a kilo of rice. And then we will yell at the government for not doing anything about controlling the prices. Voila! We have a plan!
And for some 10 years or so, we will pat our backs as we finally get to live the roti, kapda,makaan dream. Only until the roti and kapda begin to vanish….just like the sparrows did.

   And then the regal Indian will sit in his makhaan and dream about roti and kapda…Politicians will promise you a meal for every vote. Our entire population will go the Mallika Sherawat way and wear a hand-kerchief for a dress…bored of seeing scantily dressed people, Sridevi in a sari becomes a fantasy!
  And then finally, some wise head will decide that enough is enough…He will pull down a few houses to make space for some gulmohar trees…Another guy picks up the trend and razes down his old apartment block to make a farmhouse..People begin to dream of owning their own farm..Old buildings go down, new farms come up…People go back to being farmers…We begin to grow our own food again..And one day, rice prices will go down to Rs.40 per kilo…Roti comes back, and so does kapda…for the next 20 years that is…And after that, people start missing their makhaans…And then the cycle continues…..
The roti,kapda,makhaan dream will remain a dream!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fiction - From life's lost pages

 Somewhere in between last year and the year before that, going through a period of creative urge, i dabbled in story writing for a few days. Stories are not my forte. The stuff i write about is more of an observation that anything else. But during this phase i just spoke about, somehow, I got into this crazy mood and churned out a series of fictional work. This blog is one from that series. My readers on Infyblogs were happy and sent out encouraging reviews. But I have to admit, the story business is quite a tricky one for me.Well, a brake on the yada-yada, read and find out for yourself. Here we go!
The Story 
    I got into the car and gathered the pleats of my saree as I settled into the seat.Venkat, my driver, looked into the mirror and smiled at me. Nice young man, I thought to myself, as I smiled back at him.“Can we leave madam?We can take the Museum Road instead of this one” he asked, as he misted the mirror with his breath and cleaned it with the tiny yellow towel.“Let us wait until they lift the branches off the road Venkat” I replied.

   He nodded his reply and got out of the car and joined the crowd that had gathered on the pavement.
    It was raining heavy this afternoon. The Kitty party at our ladies club was supposed to end at 4 in the evening.It was 6 now.And more than half the ladies were still inside the Ladies’ club,chatting,laughing and having a good time..The rain was a blessing in disguise for us.It gave us more time at the club.

   I would have loved to stay longer. But my grand daughter would be back from school now. I wanted to spend some time with her before I headed back home.The poor child always felt lonely in the evenings, waiting for her parents to return home. She was not very fond of the maid and her antics.The minute she came back home, she locked herself up in the room and refused to come out until I knocked at the door.She looked forward to our little meet-up every evening, as much as I did.
    The tree was an ancient one.It was almost like a landmark on this road. This afternoon, the strong winds brought a huge branch crashing down to the street,blocking traffic for more than an hour.I could have chosen to take the Museum Road instead. But that added 5 more kilometer and more than 6 traffic signals to my already long drive home.So I chose to wait instead.
     The ladies were pouring out of the club,one by one. Thanks to being a member of the club for 8 long years, I knew almost every lady in the club now.I rolled my window down and waved back at them as they passed my car.
    Saraswathi, the loudest lady in the gang, came hopping down the steps,giggling and waving her hands .
I wondered where she got all that energy from.She was as old as me.And twice as larger.While most of us had got our knee caps replaced by now, Saraswathi was happily breezing through old age! It was probably her cheerful heart that kept her in the pink of health!
She caught sight of me as she descended the last step.
“Lakshmi, you are still here! Is it the traffic? Oh my! It’s been more than half an hour since you got out..Cha! “ she exclaimed, as she walked towards my car.
“The road is blocked Saru, I decided to wait until they clear up” I replied.
“Aaah…Ok! But I guess I will leave now Lakshmi, Shreyas will be here any minute now.We will take the Museum road” she said.
I smiled and nodded.
“What a day it has been Lakshmi! Abba!Such fun…Ha ha ha…Poor Vanaja is still rolling with laughter at my jokes” she gestured with her hands hysterically as she spoke..
“Oh yes Saru, I had a great time too.Stock up some more jokes for next week “ I teased her.
And she walked away, nodding her yes and shaking like a jelly blob as she giggled aloud.
    The road was clear now and Venkat came back to the car.We started off down the road.I would need atleast 20 minutes to reach my daughter’s place.As we drove past the market lane, the vegetable vendors were winding up their business for the day.The rains had ruined any chance of good sales in the evening.Vendors who had very little left, shouted out to the passers –by to buy the last stock for much cheaper rates. The market was buzzing with activity, with commotion all around. I loved this part of the road. It always brought back fond memories.The sight of the vegetable market took me back to those days, nearly 3 decades back, when I was new to the city.

   Today, I have more than a hundred acquaintances in the city.But back then, I knew no one.
Soon after my marriage, I left my cozy little town and came to the city to set up my new home with my husband. My husband held a post in the Central Government that required him to work late into the evenings. I spent the first few months of my life at the city,setting up our place and shopping for essentials. But soon, I was bored.Our’s was a big bungalow with a huge compound. Ladies from the neighboring colony,gathered up in their front porches in the afternoon and chatted away until the kids came back from school. But they rarely ever came into our compound.The big bungalow intimidated them. When I tried to speak to them as I stood at the gate in the afternoons, they spoke in a hurry and scurried off to their impromptu conferences in the opposite compound.The maid who came in to help me in the mornings, once told me, how the ladies in the neighbourhood thought that I was a rich and arrogant wife of a Government Officer. I was hurt. I missed my town more than ever. So desperate was I , for some interesting company, that I sometimes wished that I had married a simple man who did not have to live in big bungalows. I had no friends in the city. And I had almost decided that I would never make one, until, one morning, as I sat in the front yard reading the newspaper, a vegetable vendor tapped at my gate and asked me she could come in.
“Come in” I said in a stern voice. I was only putting it up. Deep inside, I was happy that someone finally walked through the gate and into my yard!
“Fresh amma,straight from the farms.Came in this morning.I don’t sell stale ones ma.I come here everyday.You can pay once a month.” She started off, even before she could put her basket down and sit down.
“Show me what you have.How much do you charge for a kilo of brinjals?” I asked.
Instead of replying to my query, she stared wide-eyed at the yellow turmeric smeared thread on my neck.
“Amma, you are newly married?” she asked, giggling happily.
“Yes” I replied, smiling.
“All the more better! I will give you the best of vegetables for lunch and dinner.No better way to keep your man in the house than cooking up something tasty for him” she giggled again.
“I still do not know how much you charge of a kilo of brinjals” I said, trying to get her back on track.
“Don’t you worry ma..I don’t take an extra penny..You will see!” she replied as she placed her right hand over chest to emphasize her promise of fair business.
    I bought vegetables from her that day and asked her to come back every day. She assured me that she would.For the next 7 years, she came every day.Rain or shine, wind or storm, she would tap at my gate every single day at nine in the morning. She became my first friend in the city. Everyday, as she settled down with her basket, she narrated stories of the latest happenings in the city.The juiciest gossip from the colony reached my ears through her. She left after 20 minutes, with a promise to come back in the afternoon when all her sales would be done.
    And every afternoon, she came back. I would sit in the frontyard and she would gather the jasmine from my garden and string them together into a bun. As I adorned my hair with the jasmine bun, she would share with me, some of the choicest of her recipes and suggest what I should cook for dinner. Sometimes I gave her a bite of whatever I had cooked for lunch and she would tell me exactly how it tasted.

“Some more tamarind ma..That will balance the salt”.
“This is better than what I make amma!”
“Did anna like it?” she would enquire the next morning, waiting eagerly to know what my husband thought of her recipes and my cooking.
She saw me through my first pregnancy.And when I went home for the child-birth, she came home every evening to cook dinner for my husband.
The day I came back with my child, she walked into the compound with a toy for my first-born and a dozen bangles for me.
“She looks just like you amma.Just as pretty” she would coo, as she petted my daughter.
For 7 long years, she came. And brought me back the little town that I missed so much. By then, I had managed to make friends in the city, but she remained to be my best ever friend.
    My husband’s transfer took us to another city for 4 years.By the time I came back,she was gone.She was 74 when she died. I could not believe it! Her energy and her enthusiasm fooled me into thinking that she would live forever…And she looked much younger than her 74 years.I said a silent prayer for her that day .And missed her every single day that I lived in the bungalow.We then moved on to a bigger place.But her memories remained.And each time I passed the vegetable market, pictures of the happy Janakamma came rushing back into my mind.
I smiled as Venkat pulled into the compound of my daughter’s place.
I now knew why I liked Saraswathi so much…She reminded me of Janakamma.
But of course, the entire Ladies’ Club put together could never give me the joy of Janakamma’s company!
My grand daughter rushed into my arms..”Ajji, come on! Tell me a story!”
I knew what story I would tell her today! :)
    The story of Janakamma, the vegetable vendor who gave me more than just vegetables!
Related Posts with Thumbnails