Monday, February 26, 2007

Out and About

In days of old
When knights were bold
And curfews weren’t invented
We’d stay out all night
And come home, a sight
All tired and cigarette scented.

The days of old ended in 2005 when a mean cop commissioner slapped down an 11pm curfew on all things nightly in Bangalore. The number of late night muggings and drunk driving incidents that the curfew was supposed to reduce, remains exactly the same. People who never really went out clubbing late in Bangalore (such as my mother who’s rejoicing as she reads this), seem to be happy about the city being nice and quiet at midnight. I am not. While the whole curfew deal doesn't cut me up as much as it does many of my friends, I certainly don't relish being hustled out every weekend by a nervous management before my chariot has a chance to turn into a pumpkin. Bratty sons of celebrities have been arrested on account of it, and the insufferable who’s who of Bangalore can’t stop talking about how their lives have been ruined forever.

The one good thing that has come out of an aborted nightlife in Bangalore though, is the fact that the old Bangalore party-at-home scene has made a quiet comeback. There’s now conversation, games, laughter and fun times at house parties in lieu of staying out clubbing all night. It’s a viable and infinitely more economical alternative for sure, but I’m greedy and want them both. There are rumors of the old days of hassle free clubbing coming back fairly soon. Being the true patriotic bengalooru hudugaru that my friends and I are, we certainly make sure all our favourite places stay in business until then.

The kids I used to go out with a couple of years ago were certainly the most tireless clubbers I’ve ever met. We called ourselves the fearsome foursome. Always the first to break the ice on a dance floor, and usually the last to leave. We each had our own style of shaking our booty on the floor: One had a lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous wave that would make waiters collide with each other and form a small heap at her feet, another would study his toes and cross and uncross his arms in front of him. The third would dance with abandon, eyes firmly shut and elbows half bent to pre-empt unwelcome amorous advances. I of course had perfected the Bombay Local - a complicated step that involved swaying from side to side holding an imaginary overhead bar. With our combined grace and technique, we brought the overall dance quotient of any club we visited, err... down.

Each of us had our favourite places to go to, and most of the weekend would be spent deciding where to go and plotting an optimum path between various destinations. I-bar was definitely my favourite. Many happy memories there, of my sweet Dalhi friend and I sipping Mojitos with the Princess of Persia, and showing ‘em how it’s done on the floor. Miss Morkozhambu and I, diehard twenty-something wannabes, would hip hop determinedly all evening with the kids at Spinn and Taika. We finally managed a half-Odissi, half-rapper bounce that fooled nobody.

180-proof (now 1912), I-bar and F-Bar were reserved for days when we felt rich enough to pay a million bucks for “six spoonsful of herbed goat’s cheese” and hang out with the well-heeled who’s who crowd. Urban Edge, Sparks, Ego’s, The Club, Zapp, Zero-G, Spinn and the like would be for days when we wanted to be amongst nice, down-to-earth urban people, all out for a good time and lots of dancing.

When we didn’t feel like shaking a leg, there was Cosmo Village, still the nicest lounge bar in town, the lovely Thirteenth Floor, and pubs like Geoffrey’s, Pecos and Tavern, where the NKBH (Namma Kaaladha Bengaluru Hudugaru – Bangalore Youth of Our Time) would gather in large numbers for a night of moojik, wining and dining. When we wanted a pleasant evening with nice house music, there was always The Night Watchman, The Underground, Downtown and Guzzlers. Pub World and The Bunker, erstwhile rocker havens, have now developed unique characters of their own, quite different from what was intended for them back in the 90s when they opened. Crowds mill in like never before. Strange impromptu dance-offs take place in the middle of the floor between the clueless and the clued in. Everyone is happy and huggy-huggy. Quite a lot of fun to go there once in a while.

Purple Haze (my favouritest pub in the world ever), Styx, Legends of Rock, Pecos and Le Rock are where it's at, for all us die hard rockers. I always have an out of body experience 15 minutes into my Purple Haze evenings, when I realize I’m at a pub on a plateau in South India headbanging to Papa Roach and Linkin Park!

I’ll go away quietly now, and leave you with a list of my favourite places to go to in Bangalore today:

To Dance (socially) : Fuga,Taika, Athena I Bar, F Bar
To Dance (junta) : Spinn,Fabulous, Zapp, Zero-G, The Bunker
For the Music (Rock) : Purple haze, Tavern, Le Rock, Legends of Rock, Pecos, Styx
For the Music (Retro/House) : Opus,Windsor Pub,Pecos,Sherlock Holmes, Night Watchman
Lounges : Taika, Cosmo Village, Elements, Pebbles,
Restobars : Thirteenth Floor, Maya, The Beach, Olive Beach, Hint

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I am a leading authority on carnatic music. Having attended 7 concerts in my life and bribed Deccan Herald to quote me on all manner of carnatic things, I now feel that I have contributed sufficiently towards the cause of carnatic music appreciation. You follow? I have therefore decided to dedicate the remainder of my time to the philanthropic art of documenting rasika(audience) stereotypes at a karnatic kacheri:

The ragam-guesser-and-zoner-outer: Springs into action at the beginning of every new song, frantically trying to identify the ragam. Stagewhispers the names of the most exotic ragams s/he can think of ("Bhinna shadjamaa?" ), to impress everyone around. When a consensus on the ragam is reached, sinks back into a blissful stupor, uncaring of the elaborate alapana, kriti, neraval and swaram that lie ahead.

Notebook Narayananaswamy: Comes armed with a tiny dog-eared cross referenced notebook with songs and ragams. Furiously scribbles in it for the first 20 seconds of a song after consulting his neighbours about the ragam, taalam and composer. Is usually wrong, which is why he never shows his book to anyone.

The Perpetual Critic: A very angst ridden jaded being that has attended kacheris since 1947. Sighs in disgust when the artist attempts an avant-garde kriti or ragam. Gets up and leaves dramatically during a meera bhajan. Makes nasty remarks before and after a kacheri about the shallowness and lack of talent of the artist. Usually upholds one privileged artist as the pillar of carnatic music, just to stave off any allegations about him being a complete cynic.

The Music Academy Maami: Grandly decked in a gorgeous kanjeevaram with jet black dyed hair, diamond encrusted heirloom jewellery and bizarrely mismatched blue rubber chappals. Usually has a season pass for the expensive see-and-be-seen section of the sabha. Very well behaved and appreciative of the music, but secretly only interested in impressing people about the simple life she leads. Chicago le irundhu yen paiyyan, peran, peththi, yellaarum vandhirukkaa. Kozhandhaigal ellaam shaerndhu diet, giet nnu praanana vaanga aarambichudthugal. Naan safe-aa aalukku oru vaai morshaadhaamaa ooti vuttu vandhutain. (silvery laughter)

The Paradise Flycatcher: The old biddy in the front row, usually an invitee, who enthusiastically plucks imaginary insects out of the air in time to the music. Screams bhale, and sabhaash at random moments in an alapana, and throws the musician completely off sync by loudly clapping out an aadi taalam to a mishra chaapu krithi. The musicians, too polite to fling their silver chombus full of dubious liquid at the rasika’s head, usually screw their eyes tightly shut and sing louder.

The Bodhi Tree: The religious nut who sits cross-legged on a chair – an amazing feat by itself, and appears to be at a higher spiritual plane than anyone else in the audience. Sways precariously from side to side with eyes rolled up in head and causes mass decapitations by suddenly lifting arms heavenwards in a namaskaram whenever a mudra or a god’s name is mentioned.

Giggling Gayatri: Usually seen huddled in a corner with a bunch of cousins and friends, passing comments about everyone and sniggering throughout the concert. Neighbours who object to the noise are instantly made a part of the giggle club and soon a whole section of the audience is giggling uncontrollably.

Sing-along Subbalakshmi: Usually a maami who sings at dasara kolus with a lisp and an appalaathu maavu kural (a voice similar to that achieved by coating your throat with papad batter): "Tharatha thaama dhaana, bheda danda thathura.." Insistently sings along with every song in the kacheri to prove that she knows them all. Is also the most glared and hissed at phenomenon in a kacheri, apart from Giggling Gayatri and gang.

The small-fry musician: Highly fidgety, mind always racing ahead of the performer to the end of the song. Nauseatingly irritating to fellow rasikas with a non-stop commentary about other artists’ (including their own) renditions of the same song. Will abruptly ask rasikas to accompany them to the canteen for bonda in mid-song, and irritate them further by prolonging the canteen experience with anecdotes about their various performances.

The Carnatic wannabe: The sort that will do anything to belong to the crowd. First in line at Jesudas and Aruna Sayeeram concerts and usually in possession of a large collection of Unnikrishnan and Nityashree albums containing synth, tabla and veena interludes between stanzas. Highly embarrassing to more serious listeners and artists, especially with requests for a Tulsidas ragamalika before the main ghana ragam.

All other stereotypes, maami-types, comments and insights are most welcome.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I Cantt. help it I say.

My earliest memories of Bangalore are of arriving at the Bangalore Cantonment station at 4 in the morning, and spotting my grandparents waiting for us in the morning mist. They’d scoop my brother and me up in their arms and whisk us off home in a pink ambassador. Their interesting taste in car colours, and the years they spent in weight training in order to scoop fat grandsons off station floors made them strange, but strong people.

I must grudgingly admit to being a sucker for colonial hangovers. I love the little self-contained towns of the cantonment, I love its chilled out people, its charming old worldliness and its beautiful old churches. I love the Catholic Club, complete with old biddies sailing somberly across the dance floor. And I love its street names, that get curiouser and curiouser as one goes easter and easter. Moore road, Ware road, O’Shaugnessey road, Broadway street, Seppings road, Primrose road. Uff, what loverliness and mystery I say! A friend once called me a cantonment wannabe. She’s right, but she’s a Malleshwaram and morkozhambu wannabe herself, so there.

The street names of the cantonment can only be matched in coolness by the names of the cantonment towns. Frazer Town, a case in point, is about the busiest part of the cantonment. Here is where I spend most of my time lurking around friends’ homes waiting for Christmas to happen, so I can sing carols for my supper (or kalkals, cake and home made wine as the case may be). And if that doesnt work, there's always Thom’s at the end of Promenade road, a nice bakery close to the beautiful St John’s church. Thom's is the ideal spot to check out crotchety old ladies in polka dotted dresses accompanied by equally ancient handmaidens called Anthonyamma. But if thats not your thing to do, you could walk down to Sherlock Holmes, a nice 80s pub on Cole’s road. Or check out Taipan, an 80s restaurant that has a hoary tradition of serving near-chinese food in near-darkness, lest you catch sight of what lurks beneath the sofas.

Benson town is a little more ghettoed, though it still has some very pretty bungalows such as the beautiful cottage that belongs to my mudslinging morkozhambu loving friend. Dewar’s Inn, a crazy crumbling joint near the cantt station, is the oldest pub in Bangalore. It has large rattan chairs and grumpy waiters who serve you drinks from out of a godrej almirah. Love it, love it.

Jayamahal, next to Benson Town, is named after the Jayamahal Palace. Once the summer residence of the peshwa of god knows where, it is now a deliciously run down hotel that looks straight from out of a horror movie. The old courtyard used to be open to the sky until the management ran out of silver bullets on full moon nights. It now has a noisy aluminium roof that I’m hoping will blow away this monsoon, so I can howl at the moon from atop my table in peace again. Elements, a safer but essentially avoidable lounge bar on Nandidurg road closeby, seems to draw a fair share of the yuppie crowd. But its not the average Jayamahal Palace goer's cup of blood for sure.

Cooke Town is arguably the prettiest part of the Cantonment, with the lovely Richard’s park, old cottages lining the streets, cute little squares with Goan names, and the often bypassed Bangalore East Railway Station.

Other places in the cantonment that the intrepid (and terribly jobless) traveler might want to check out, are the posh but dusty Langford Town, the once charming Richmond Town, the ungraceful Grace town, the oddly named Cox town, and the Tam stronghold of Austin town where the infant Jesus lives in bathroom tiled splendor.

Honestly though, Id give Baby JC a skip any day, to walk around the cantonment’s two most famous streets: South Parade (MG Road) and Brigade Road. They are the pride, joy and dearest treasure of every Bangalorean. To mud(Mg road Up & Down) and to bud (Brigade road Up & Down) are the two most productive pastimes in Bangalore. Those that haven't yet understood the benefits of these supremely pleasurable activities must come see me immediately.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Jersey Potko

If you’ve experienced the erratic rain of Bangalore then you know how easy it is to use it as an excuse for everything:
“Why are you late?”
“Stuck in the rain.”
“But its 34 degrees in the shade and my cactus is asking for majjige!”
“Im from Malleswaram.”
Pregnant pause.
“Oh ok.”

As an old-timer was wont to say: "Wherever else it rains or doesn’t, it always rains in Malleswaram. And Seattle, where my second son, my neighbour’s daughter, her cousins, all her classmates and their yuppie families live."
Truer words were ne'er spoken. The steep slopes of brain drain central are almost always negotiated through a hazy drizzle, while avoiding slowly liquefying cow pat and fallen sampige flowers. As the years roll on though, less and less of the gentle rain from heaven falls upon the upturned face of Malleswaram’s youth. For the simple reason that dere ain't no youth no more. But perhaps this is also why nobody has meddled much with malleswaram, and much of its old world charm is still intact. Well, except for the flyover and Pizza hut.

THEN AND NOW: My mother remembers Malleswaram as a dark cold hilltop suburb, where people wore nine yards sarees and rattled around big houses with big brooding gardens. Modern day Malleswaram isn’t radically different. Except that it's now in the middle of the city and people wear nine yards sarees and rattle around flats that they exchanged their big bungalows with brooding gardens for. The youth of Malleswaram gathered in temples and libraries, and built up resistance to infection by swimming in the infamous "swimming pool", a natural rock pond, now replaced by the larger albeit less charming Sadashivanagar swimming pool a few hundred yards away. The 7 men and 4 women under thirty five that still inhabit Malleswaram take yogercise lessons and look for discounted airfares online for their parents to visit their siblings abroad with.

THE WEATHER: Whenever the family car turned into Malleshwaram, my great grandmother would say “Jersey potko, jersey potko” (Put on your sweaters) to all the kids in the car, for fear of the legendary icy-cold Malleswaram draft giving them the legendary Malleswaram sniffles. I think my mother had a troubled youth, the poor dear. She still mutters jersey potko, jersey potko to herself whenever she feels a little chilly. It still rains more in Malleswaram than anywhere else though, and the old Jersey Potko draft still blows through it every evening. I love it, though my dad, a Madras man, has a less charitable view towards it. He would freeze solid at the door when he returned home every evening. My mother would have to swathe him in shawls, feed him piping hot coffee and tell him embarrassing stories before he thawed out. Well, perhaps its good old Jersey P thats responsible for preserving Malleswaram so well for so long.

THE FOOD: There are six things you can do in Malleswaram besides geting a good soaking:
(1) sleep all day under a razai
(2) visit the temple
(3) go to 8th cross and
(4-6) eat, eat, eat.
Strolling on 8th cross, talking to the toothless spinach lady and looking at the underwear shops on Sampige road can work up quite an appetite. Which is a good thing, because you need it to do justice to the air-like idly at Veena stores, a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop on 15th Cross, that provides a steady supply of heaven to all who might care to sample it.

But you can’t live on air alone, the same old-timer was also wont to say: “Honey, you aint no Malleswaramite unless y’all say ha’ to Krish at the temple and eat vada at Janatha hotel on 8th cross.” He was just back from helping his daughter reproduce in Texas.

The vadas at Janatha are definitely unique, and the old-world Malleswaramites have a unique way of eating them. An enormous vada is served to you on a tiny plate with a small bowl of sweet (yes) sambar. Dunk the sambar all over the vada and smash it to bits with your spoon until the resultant mixture resembles a gloppy upma. Err, in my humble youthful non-texan opinion, I think the best justice to the truly magnificent janatha vada and the delightful sambar can be done only by savouring them separately.

Top it off with a concert at the temple and a benne masale dose and filter coffee at CTR (with a new fancy name that nobody remembers), and all's well with the world again. Or if you’re one of those “modern sorts”, go get a home-made ice cream cone from the deep voiced goddess-like lady at Amrith Nice Creams on 11th cross.

An evening in heaven for Rs 20. Texas, I have only two words to say to you: Jersey Potko.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Ugh, weddings

I love Dhanur maasa (Dec-Jan). It’s the best season in the south. Its cool, Chennai is bursting its seams with Carnatic concerts, and my happy budday to you is right in the middle of it. Most importantly, it’s one whole month of inauspicious days - weddingless bliss! But now that families are gearing up to get their progeny hitched again, its time for me to go into hiding. Bye bye blissful Dhanur Maasa. Hello relative-avoiding 100kmph dashes in and out of Malleshwaram.

Weddings on my mother’s side are bizarre, though the scenes are always the same. Diamond-eared, silk saree clad women talking to each other in convent school accents about how they are related, and trying to set their children up with each other. Men wearing hang dog expressions, calling each other sir and discussing the current socio-economic situation. NRI kids moping about in their brand new "Indian" clothes, complaining incessantly about the heat and the food in terribly incongruous american accents.

A small foray into the language dynamic of my mom’s side of the family: English is unfortunately the preferred language of communication, though the odd sentence will sometimes be translated into Kannadized Tamil to drive a point home. Oddly though men will only talk to women in Kan-Tam (and vice versa) and switch back to English to talk to each other.

Yeah they’re nuts. But then I love to show them off!


Random scenes from a random family wedding

Scene 1: At the entrance of the dining room

Large matronly Aunt (LMA) to Amma: Ooo Gita! How lovvly to see you mah. Eppo vandhey? (when did you come?)

Amma (half hugging aunt with one hand and hitching up her saree with the other) : Just this morning mah. Epdi irkey? (How are you?)

LMA: Just the usual mah. Ive not at allllll been well for six months now. Yoooooooozhul aches and pains. None of us is getting any younger, no? Muhuhuhahaha

Amma : (trademark social giggle) Youve met my son? (points to zoned out son squinting towards the kitchen)

LMA: Oooooooooooooo. Yevlo perivon aipotikkaan. Odhra, gyaapkon ikkardha? Unde paati aanon naane. (Oooo, how big he's become. Do you remember me child? Im your grandmother (doubtless through some torturously complicated relationship)

Me: (shaken out of torpor and trying best not to let on that I wasnt listening) Yeah the traffic was quite heavy on the way.

LMA (confused, but trying her best not to let on that she’s worried about going slightly senile): Aama ma, reaaalllly. ‘Ts become suchaaaaa chore to get out and about these days, no? Its realllly tough. Rombaa kashtmaardhe. (silvery laugh)

LMA (to amma) Yenna mah, paathkundikya ivnke? (Are you looking for him (ie a for a bride)?)

Me: (Stern glower at mother)

Amma (nervouser giggle): Err, you know these kids mah, they have minds of their own..

LMA (Trying to be mod) : Aaama, aaama. Kekve vaanaan (don’t ask) (Turning to me) So? Have you stashed away someone we don’t know about? Someone you go to all those “disco-theques” with every weekend? Oh come on. (nudges) You can tell your grandmother. Don’t worry pah, I wont tell your amma. Nee kekadhe dee (you don’t listen dee) (pushes amma away, the pushee still giggling nervously)

Me: Well there’s only one way to find out aunty. Come to the “discotheque” with me this Saturday.

LMA: Ooooooooo ketya deeee? (Did you hear that di?) (Laughs in a flattered sort of way) Whaaaat’ll an old fuddy duddy like me do rattling around in a discotheque I say.

(to Amma): Adhe maaa, andh Srirangu de pethi ikkaaLe, ingye Benglurle ikka. Rombaa nal pann avluh (You know, Srirangu’s granddaughter, she’s in Bangalore. A really nice girl ) (Looks conspiratorially at me)

Her voice, interspersed with nervous giggles from the maternal, fades away as I zone out again over buckets of chathamdh (rasam) gleaming seductively at me from the kitchen.


Scene 2: Post lunch, pre departure

Appa: Hellooooooo ho-ho (shakes hands with someone I bet he doesn’t remember from Adam.)

The other guy (TOG), coincidentally the husband of LMA: Hello sir, long time. You were outaaf station?

Appa: Not particularly. So? Whats happening?

TOG: Jaasthi yenilla saar (not much sir). Neeve hel beku. (You have to tell me) Howwaar you saar?

Appa: Getting along, getting along.
(calmly thinking of neutral sounding conversation to make with a person he probably wont be able to place all evening)

TOG: I vaas reeding about recent laanch aaf INSAT from SHAR. So? Congratulations.

Appa: Oh ha ha. Thank you thank you. It’s quite a milestone actually.

TOG: But whyyyyy they are wasting time building aaaal these raakets here I say. Whyyyy they cant buy fraam US and laanch I don’t know.

Appa: Well if we develop the competency ourselves, it might be to our advant…

TOG: No but whyyyyyyyyy unnnnnecessarily buildaand aaal that. Simmmmply aaaaal our fellows aaar sitting here and reeeeebuilding yevvverything thatttis aalready available. Whaaaaaaaaat is the use I say.

Appa: (giving up) That’s true.

TOG: So? How are other things?

Appa: Fine, fine. All fine. Huh huh huh.

TOG: Sir you know my wife? (To wife LMA)

Appa: Err yes I think we've met.

LMA (to husband): Oh nanna therime. Geethande yejmaanar mah. (Of course I know him. he's Gita's husband).

TOG: Andh Geethaa? (Which Gita?)

LMA: Adhe mah, Vedvallide akkande de rendavdh naatpanninde thange Srirangnayki gyaapkon ikardha? (You know, Vedavalli's elder sister's 2rd daughter in law's younger sister Sriranganayaki?)

TOG: Oho. Mysore paak vaalaa? (Oh you mean the Mysore paak family?) (All families are crowned with an identifier. This one apparently seems to have a reputation of making good Mysore Paak)

LMA: Anne maa. Mysore paak vaa de haathk pakkathva. (No mah, these are the neighbours of the Mysore Paak family)

TOG: Aareh...? Pakkthaathle Kall-uppu va indha. Avaalk anna aanon? (Who...? I remember the rock salt family used to live there. How is she related to them?)

LMA: Hoon maa, kall-uppva le. Adhe, Srirangnayki irkaale? Avlde pethide naai yeppovon bogulkyunde irkme. Konch na minne pakkth-haath panne kadchoot patpoche - gyaapkon ikkardha? Andh panninde akkonde rendavdh haidhi thaan ivluh - Gita.

(Yes mah, the rock salt family. You know Sriranganayaki of that family, dont you. Remember her granddaughter's dog that would bark all the time, and once bit the neighbour girl and ran away? (presumably in the early 50s!) Well Gita is that girl's elder sister's second daughter.)

TOG: Ohhho, arthon aache. Kere pakkathva aanm anna? (Oh I get it. Don't you mean the lake dwellers?)

LMA: Hoon maa. Romba kitte aanon ava (Yes mah, theyre quite close)

TOG (to Appa) : So vee arr verry closely related aa?

Appa : Yes, apparently. (smiling to himself)

LMA (to Appa): Namskaaron. Romba ketikken ungle pathi. Yeppodhaana engde haathk vaaron. Geethak shollkyunde ikke.
(Namaste. Ive heard so much about you. You must come home sometime. Ive been asking Gita for a long time)

LMA (To Amma): Gita? You musssssst come home some time mah. It’ll be so lovely meeting all of you. Yepo vare ant chollu. Tell me when you’re coming.

LMA (to me) : So? When are you taking me to the disco-theque. Yeppo alchkund pore disco-thequ-ke?

Me: (cringing in fear, and pulling foot out of mouth momentarily to kick myself) Annnnytime aunty. (borrowing mother’s nervous giggle and vanishing quietly)

My only interest in weddings this year is the food. I think Ill send a tiffin box with Amma to represent me. Oth’wise I don’t think I’ll be able to handle it mah. I’ll be very bored. Romba bore aarna.