“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.”
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.