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.


farrokh said...

Thats one thing we in Bombay will never have. A full fledged cantonment. What comes close is the erstwhile Holiday Camp (now babufied to Navy Nagar)

It houses the gorgeous St Johns, built to commemorate the dead in the Afghan Wars and partly funded by a Parsi merchant prince. Then there are the Connaught Barracks - if one peers over the grime of years in which the names are clouded. And the Naval Hospital ship. And the Observatory, whose pronouncements we look forward to, but never believe, also is in this area. Ah what large playing fields, what cottages, quaintly named roads (Roberts Lane, Duxbury Lane, Napier Road), bougainvilleas galore. But it digress. This was circa 1975.

Still, one can walk for several miles and only see a few staff cars whizzing past. The roads still are redolent of the times we learnt how to cycle (or for our older cousins, where they learnt to drive or canoodle) One can still peek into the gorgeously maintained Colaba House, Fleet House and Airforce House and visualise a glimpse of a Peggy Aschroft or Susan Wooldridge or Mildred Layton at tea. But there I mix my leading ladies and my literary characters. One still hears the Navy Band practicing somewhere in the distance. And what of the quaint US (United Services) club with their starchy waiters and the longest sea wall in South Bombay. And the offices of the Spastic Society housed in an erstwhile ServiceMens Club....

But Number 1 Duxbury Lane is a highrise named after a sea goddess and the whole area now goes under an acronym that puts paid to any dreams of cantonement bliss. Imagine - NOFRA (Naval Officers Flat Residents Association) vs the somnolent Holiday Camp!

So, Biker Dude, if we cantt have a cantt here in Bombay, we have our memories.

comment_raja said...

Very well described blog beta. Im not sure how I feel about the Cantt names, but I like the way you describe it.

We have some lovely sounding Indian names like Suryavanshi, Anjali, Rawail, Birla, Nandini, Chaitanya, Arjuna, Bheema, Rama and so on.

Wouldnt it be great if we had some neighbourhoods, roads named like that?

PS: I feel like you were close to a BIG FAT 'O' by the time you finished the blog. heh.

Shobha said...

True abt a BIG FAT 'O' hehe

Anonymous said...

Being a true blue Bangalorean and esp. a Frazer town girl - I know exactly what you are talking about. I miss those familiar sounds and sights. Just longing to go back home...Until then I am going to cling on to those very sweet memories.

Pri said...

awwwwww full flashback bandbidthu.
i grew up in jayamahal, went for bharatanatyam dance classes near nandidurga road, went to st.johns church occasionally, shopped at thoms, saw lots of polka dotted frock wearing aunties, oorsutthad on brigade road.
too much ree too much emotions bandbidthu.

Anonymous said...

it clearly looks like u didnt grow up in bangalore and also dont have any sentiments attached to it. dont suggest stuff when u dont understand the nostalgia behind it.

Bikerdude said...

anon: actually, comment_raja is the truest bluest bangalorean possible, having been born, raised, fed and watered mostly in the cantonment :)

Just as passionately fond of the city as all of us, I think he was only trying to point out some alternative names to our cantt street names.

personally though, I think the Suryavanshi, Nandini type names can be used for streets in Arkavathy Layout :p

Nancy said...

Determined to drag ppl into remmebering stuff they havent thot abt for yrs, aren't u?

I studied in a school quite close to Richards Park, went to a college near Brigade Rd, attended church near Cooke Town, worked for 2 yrs in Cox Town......sighhhh.
Where did all those years go?

p.s - Onde ondu requeshtu, Neevu bariyadu staaap maadbaardu.

SloganMurugan said...

request: A post on the colourful language of this part of bangalore.

Anonymous said...

Made me relive my childhood...the jatka stand in Cox Town...the old world charm of all the bungalows...walking hand in hand with Appa along Ulsoor lake around the war memorial...Nice post :) said...

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