Friday, September 21, 2007

Dankey, Sankey.

When an enthusiastic colonel in the Madras Sappers regiment built it in 1882, he definitely had a different plan for it. It was meant to supplement the scarce water supply of thirsty Malleswaram and Sriramapuram. It cleverly channeled in water from the surrounding tanks and streams into a natural ravine blocked off by a stone bund. Col Sankey's tank turned out to be a disappointment though, when the water turned brackish from the mineral deposits in the soil, very soon after it was built. Its purpose since then has remained pretty much the same - to be a thing of beauty.

Legend in the family has it that my great grandfather actually had to swim across the lake to reach his property on the south bank of the tank, when he bought it in the 30s. The surrounding areas, once a fruit orchard of the Maharaja, was eventually replaced by a residential layout, that has developed its own charm over the years. The lake sees more vistors today than ever before, with its big new joggers park and pretty but rather bland landscaping.

In the 60s and 70s, lines of donkeys bearing laundry lined the bund, and the slap-slap of clothes being smacked mercilessly against the bund wall would ring clear across the lake's surface all the way into my great grandfather's dining room. The less-than dulcet tones of novice nadaswaram players practicing at the crack of dawn on the lake's edge greatly assisted in curdling the milk in my great-grandmother's kitchen. Strangely though, the lake was never really batheable. My rebellious mumsy once dived into the lake for a swim in the 60s to disprove this. She went down with typhoid instantly after.

The 80s rolled in, the donkeys disappeared and were replaced by love-birds of all kinds dotting the bamboo clumps on the lake's edge. A sight that we were well shielded from as kids by our protective grandparents. We would spend all our summer holiday afternoons poking around on the banks, trying hopelessly to catch fish to put in my great-grandfather's tank. A search party was once sent out for me when I had fallen asleep in the bullrushes while playing hide and seek with my brother and our cousins. Hey, it was a comfortable hiding place!

I also remember a time when my aunt stooped down planted a big kiss on my head for pulling her out of knee deep slush when we were looking for crabs as kids. She told my grandmother that I came and rescued her from deathly quicksand with my big muscles. I was 3 feet tall and weighed about 20kg then. I would valiantly assist all manner of people across doorsteps and imaginary dents in the ground for weeks after!

Thanks to BTS (now BMTC)'s dubious reputation for being Bekaada Timealli Sigolla (Never there when you want it), the best bet was to trudge across to Malleswaram 18th cross bus stand to catch a bus to college. My joy knew no bounds when I discovered a secret path on the west side of the lake that I needed to jump across a culvert and several lake inlets to negotiate, to get me there faster. The ethereal morning mist would send white wisps out to the beautiful grassy knolls on the lake's edge for me to catch. Kingfishers would pierce the glassy surface of the water at bullet speed, and emerge with their breakfasts moments after. Water snakes would scuttle away into deeper water the moment they sensed me coming. Man, those mornings!

I'd even made friends with the forest department gardeners, who'd actually time their day with my comings and goings. On my way back from college, they'd say "Swami bandawre. 4:30 aiyth kanrroiyy". There was a secret nook where black magicians would fling vermillion and turmeric at bizarre looking clay effigies by the water's edge. When they saw me slink by trying to look as unobtrusive as possible, they'd laugh loudly, blowing powders in my direction as I passed. I never had the courage to go look at the idols more closely when they were not around though.

When the boat club opened in the mid 90s, the family would dutifully take all visitors out for an obligatory boat ride on the lake. OK lets face it, the lake's pretty and all, but its not really large enough for a scenic boat ride or anything. I still remember an aunt muttering to herself as she got off the boat after a 15 minute circle around the lake: "Ippadi kodakku kodakku nnu poi enna sugaththa kandon?" (What pleasure did we get by rattling around kodakku-kodakku like this?)

The late 90s saw a few bizarre instances of mass fish-suicides. All of us were certain that the water was poisoned, until the fisheries department discovered that the fish had overbred and died of oxygen starvation. Needless to say, the hundreds of cormorants, dabchicks, kingfishers, snakebirds and kites that lived around, had month long foodfests whenever that happened.

The lake, which would earlier dry out partially in the summer, now brims over with water all year round, thanks to the successful efforts of local residents to unblock the water inlets. Bangalore's recently aquired heavy monsoon pattern, and a Lok Ayukta's decision to raise the spillover weir by two feet have in fact caused it to flood heavily of late. The monsoon of 2005 completely washed away the recently completed 4 crore BMP landscaping, and submerged large parts of greatgramps' garden.

The jogging track is back now, bigger and higher than before. The old trees that perished due to water logging are now replaced by promising looking saplings. The wild serenity of the west bank is gone forever, replaced by a vast tract of landscaping that is no longer mine alone to enjoy :(

The Sankey Tank has metamorphosized dramatically over the hundred-odd years of its existence: from an almost-forgotten failed project, into a charming and much needed oasis of calm in bustling Bangytown. It still serves to ease the lives of thousands of people around, albeit in a completley different manner from what was intended.

The two most beautiful things about the lake however, are what nobody can ever change: The glorious sight of a full moon shimmering over its placid surface, and most importantly, The warm fuzzy feeling of finally being home!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Duruflé the organ?

6:30am today found 17 of us at the beautiful St. Marks cathedral for a rehearsal, shivering our timbers in the morning draft . A few minutes later, the young organist climbed nervously into his seat, high up above us. He's good. A little shy and perhaps not used to the exacting standards of the choir director (aka Girl 1), who chewed him to bits during the first run through, but he survived. The sombre acoustics of the cathedral seem to suit the choir's voices exceedingly well though, especially that of Blonde Counter-Tenor (baritone this time) who sounds clear as an elven bell.

Those of you that have never heard a pipe organ in a church must rectify this immediately. It is the only instrument that can fill you with awe, fear, calm, sorrow, joy and peace all in the span of a few minutes. You can easily imagine it to be a huge living breathing being, capable of bursting into a thousand booming voices that occupy every corner of your brain. The recently restored pipe organ at St Mark's (MG Road, Bangalore) with its huge flues and reeds almost a storey high each, is the only one in Bangalore that is in concert condition.

The organ accompaniment to Duruflé's requiem, a tough 20th century piece that we are performing this weekend, is melancholy, disconnected at times, and breathtakingly beautiful at others. When the organist pressed his foot tentatively down on a deep d, we all went silent for a couple of seconds, savouring the funny quiver that aimed itself exactly at the middle of our chests and set the entire requiem alight.

Practice was gruelling. The organist has his back to the conductor, and the music is tough as nails. We might have to resort to using the cathedral's fine electric organ- almost indiscernable to the untrained ear from the original, so that we can co-ordinate better. But I'm hoping against all hope that we might be able to use the living breathing goliath with some practice. To hear the wind rush in and out of its great throat as it sings to accompany us.

Modern classical music is free from the traditional mores of composition. Varying time signatures, crazy passages and bizzarely beautiful chords make it a treat to listen to, provided your mind is open to it. It is madness to perform, but completely worth the effort.

Here's what we're doing, among others:
Duruflé's Requiem - A haunting, sombre, yet tender modern requiem by Maurice Duruflé, a famous French composer.
Agnus Dei - by Samuel Barber, originally an adagio for strings, re-written for voice and organ. You might have heard the strings version in the movie Platoon.
Rejoice in the Lamb - A modern composition by Benjamin Britten, a brilliant English composer, set to lyrics written by Christopher Smart, a delightfully mad 18th century poet, who actually wrote from a lunatic asylum.

How exactly a monsoon audience on a plateau in South India is going to react to it remains to be seen :) If youd like to react too, stroll over to St marks Cathedral, MG Road Bangalore, on Saturday 22nd Sep at 6:45pm for an evening of contemporary sacred music accompanied by the beautiful organ at St Marks.

It's in a church, and it's free, so be nice :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Aa Yent-ne Craaass banniiii!

I wandered into Veena stores this weekend and was surprised to see that they have become all streamlined and modern. Instead of screeching over peoples heads for idly, you now pay up over people's heads and get a coupon which you then give over people's heads to get the idly.

The idly however remains just the same. As does the hot-and-cold staff who, on a good day will reward you with radiant toothsome smiles, and completely ignore you the next time around. There are several strange things about the store though, which I shall compile into a compendium of coschans below:

Why is it a shop and not a hotel? What sort of shop sells idly anyway? How can pasty idly taste this gorgeous? How on EARTH do they get those vadas like that? Why do BTS buses have a special wail when they brake to a halt at the bottom of the slope in front of the store? Why does the same idli taste silly when parcelled and taken home? What on earth is Brahmi juice and who is going to drink it when they can have wonderful filter coffee?

To all these I have only one answer: Mwah.
Veena stores, 15th cross, Margosa Rd, Malleswaram.

Needless to say, the idly vada only whetted my appetite, so I waddled over to TRFACTR (The Restaurant Formerly Known as CTR), who are planning on changing their name officially to a heiroglyph of a benne masale stuffed with a goli bajji. Another slew of questions hit me instantly:

Why bother changing the name of a restaurant when nobody cares? How in the name of all things heavenly do they get their benne masale like that? Why don't they hand out xeroxes of the coffee maker's foot for daily worship? Has anyone benefitted from the poster of wise sayings installed on the wall in 1753? Has anyone cleaned this poster since 1753? Can I please sit in the family room? Hello table-sharer, which cross and main are you from?

And to all these questions is another simple answer: Silence.

Just eat your dosa, do not talk. Central Tiffin Rooms (aka Shree Sagar, 6th Cross, Margosa Rd)

Terribly satisfied and strangely unable to move, I decided to roll down the rest of Margosa Road, crash into the flyover-in-progress and worm my way over the debris to Bhagyalakshmi Butter Gulkand store.

Established in the latter half of the jurassic period, they have successfully evolved their menu to support 4 items: (a) Butter (b) Gulkand (c) Butter Gulkand (d) Special Butter Gulkand.
Apparently there are 7 people in Malleswaram who actually buy items (a) and (b). As for me and several other people who like the feeling of being gobsmacked with an industrial strength sugarbuzz, (d) is the perfect choice. To make it, take a plastic sheet, slather on a years supply of homemade butter, add three spoons of gulkand (rose petal preserves) , top up with tutti frooti and sweetened banana.

I ate four spoons of the good stuff, whirled around 5th cross screaming "Sugarbuzz.. sugarbuzz.." and miraculously found myself at 8th cross. Walked into Janatha Hotel, once famed for its sweet sambhar and monster-sized vadas. Still lovely, but considerably less crowded. I think it's because people can't spot it after the strange Palm-Like Dracaena tree in its mini courtyard got walled in.

The vada in my stomach assisted greatly in rolling me down to Asha Sweet centre (8th Cross, Sampige Rd). After loading up on basundi and badami haalu, yodelling Bantu reethi kolu 28 times, whirling around 8th cross and collapsing in a dead faint, I decided to document the remaining Malleswaram restaurants, food shops and wannabes of note below. Kindly do the needful and oblige.

(y) Rajanna's chaat, 8th cross, 5th main. Easily identified by a stertorous "Kotte shiva, kotte!" emanating from a buzz of humanity surrounding a chaat trolley.

(e) Villa Pottipatti, opp Rajanna. Beautifully restored Malleswaram Bungalow, now a Neemrana hotel. They have a french restaurant that you have to call ahead to reserve. Whatever!

(n)New Krishna Bhavan, 3rd Cross, Sampige Rd. Nice, but fairly average always-been-there joint. South Indian Naarth Indian Mini meals type place with an ok-ish speciality restaurant called Gopika.

(r) The Basil, 3rd cross, Sampige Rd. Hmm. Sorry you cant be called that in Malleswaram.

(i) Cafe Coffee day, 13th cross Sampige Rd and 18th Cross 8th main. Eh, you know the deal.

(s)Om shakthi Mess 2nd Cross, Sampige Rd. Palakkad aakum. Their rice servings come on a side plate covered with a layer of rice exactly one grain thick. Fantastic. Oda-oda resaththa vittu aathula panna chorum koottaanum kuduppaalaakkum. Enna, manassilaacho dee?

(w) Shenoy Stores: 8th Cross Margosa Rd. Chakli, nippat, thindi.. y'know... Not my favourite to be honest.

(a) Sri krishna Sweets: A recent entrant into Malleswaram from Tamil Nadu, they haven't bothered changing the spelling of their speciality sweet from its Tamilized version : "Mysurpa". A bit overrated, though their freebies are fun.

(m) Iyengar bakery, Vyalikaval main rd. Lovely benne biscuit, baked nippat and sponge cake. Good stuff. Try maadi nodi.

(i)Butter sponge: An offshoot of the Basavangudi version. Not really great, though their speciality sponge cake: Butter Sponge, is rather nice in an eggless, chavukku-chavukku sort of way.

(a) Amrit Nice Creams 11th Cross, 7th main. Uyyo what a lovely. Run by nice Melkote Iyengar mama and husky voiced mami. Home made vanilla, pyoor saffran and manoranjani ice creams served vith or vithout vooden spoons. Warning: Since the ice creams are made with milk without mixing in lard, they have a distinct paal vaasne (milky smell).

(r) Love Luck stores: 12th cross, Sampige Rd. Well if they can survive with a name like that in the 2000s they've got to be old as the hills. Chutney pudis, pickles, condiments and the like. Good stuff.

(a) HaLLi mane: 4th Cross, Sampige Rd. A faux village restaurant. This newish entrant has gained insane popularity among the locals, and blends right into the food scene in conservative Malleswaram. Skip the North Indian Thali and try out the local specialities: Ragi and akki rotti, ragi mudde, cocum saaru etc. Quite nice.

(ma) Sri Rama Coffee Works: 9th Cross, Sampige Rd. Good old fashioned coffee powder shop. They also sell something called Mammary tea, which I havent had the courage to ask them about. Mumsy has developed a unique communication system with the shop lady. She'll pull up silently by the kerb and pretend to ignore her. The shopkeeper will scoop our weekly quota of filter coffee powder straight from the grinder into a packet and hand it over to her silently with a 10 rupee note. Mother will make blank calls to random people to pretend she is busy and wordlessly hand over Rs 100 and drive off. Strangely though, you can't tear them apart when they meet each other in different circumstances, such as in the 12th cross market or at an oxygen bar.

Acknowledgements: Veena store and CTR pics from the lovely blog of Bellurramki.