Friday, December 19, 2008

Benglur Talkies

Hello hello peeps, sorry for the sepulchral silaans. This time, at the insistence of this mad person, I am going to torture you with my first talking blogpost. Gaaaaahahahaha. So kindly have it, Part 1 of:

Bengalooru Blahnteru
(Secretly taped snappy snippets of day to day Benglur talku)
PS: If you have a dodgy internet connection like I do, you might want to hit the pause button and let them buffer a bit before listening...

1. Heard outside the Basavanagudi NRI association..
video

2. Secretly captured on cellular phone at Lounge de la didah.

video
3. At Lunchtime in Electronics city, Phase II

video

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Mane Man


“Chumma irikkadei!” (Shut up, you!) he growled, as he dragged a blunt razor across the back of my neck. I was six and petrified. Nicknamed “Kandan The Barbarian” by all who knew him, this guy was known to draw blood at the slightest provocation. “Aaaan. Mindaathe iri.” (Not a word!) He said ominously, and went away to sharpen the razor on a rubber tube he’d tied to the window for the purpose.

I whimpered and looked at my brother, trussed up similarly in a white sheet next to me, and prayed for our mother to appear miraculously and save us. A few more snips and scrapes later, his work was done. I tried my best not wince as the blunt blade sliced into the side of my neck, but he wasn’t impressed. “Poda!” (Get out!) he roared, as we paid up and ran for our lives. For if anyone took the old adage: “Fashion is pain” seriously, it was this man: Manikandan, our not-so-friendly neighbourhood barber.

After several tear-filled entreaties to our parents to spare us the torture of Manikandan’s rusty blade, our parents finally agreed to take us to a slightly more upmarket barbershop a few km away. My brother discovered the joys of the 80s bouffant there. It swayed like the fronds of a coconut tree as he towered a good foot and a half over his classmates. I, however, decided to stick with my Beatles-Goes-To-Pulayanarkotta hairstyle all through my childhood.

And thus I remained right until college, when a rather nasty bump into a lamp post made me realize that hair flopped over the eyes wasn’t a great idea in the era of electicity. I was all set to get a rad new 90s Bangalore cut that would give me the Hollywood edge that I’d always dreamt of. However, the 8 rupees that I paid Jagganath Reddy of Up To Date Hair Style, Vyalikaval, didn’t quite seem to do the trick. He’d grab a clump of my head, shake his head and say “Yenri, hing ide nim koodhlu?” (You sure that's hair?) He’d then call his assorted baavas, maavagarus and thammudus sitting around to come have a look at it. I’d close my eyes tight and pretend to die.

At one point, I’d had enough. I sent Jagannath Reddy an I Hate You card one September, and grew my mop out until it threatened to engulf the Sankey Tank. When my strangulated family pleaded for mercy, I took it to the best salon in town at the time – Spratt on Magrath Road. The proprietrix looked down her nose at it and said “Relaxer, maximum strength. Now.” to her waiting assistant. Four hours later, after much grunting and groaning, as assistant after exhausted assistant relaxed and flat ironed my hair, I emerged looking like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. The Spratt lady took one look and burst out laughing. In my face. “I’m sorry, but it looks hilarious. Hahahahahaha. That will be one thousand five hundred, thanks and do come back.” I covered my face with a towel and ran to La Bamba to buy myself a very large hat.

I did everything to my hair to get it to look like Zulfi Syed and anyone else who had long hair those days, but could never get it to look the way I wanted it to. The sweet Srilankan girls at Squeeze on Lavelle Road had a go at it a couple of times, and would send me home looking like professor Snape from Harry Potter. The bearded, bejewelled stylist at Bounce told me to wash it with yoghurt. Couldn't bring myself to do it. I even had an Australian woman cut it when I was in Melbourne. “You’ve got quite a thatch up there mite”, she mumbled, grunting as her tiny little scissors tried in vain to snip through it.

Two years and a depleted bank balance later, I gave up. It was back to the barber shop for me. I now share a special relationship with Muniraju of Royal Men’s Beauty, Bhashyam Circle. When he grabs a clump of my hair and says “Yenri idhu?” I smile benevolently. When he says, “Ayyo sariyag maintrence maadbekri koodhalge. Shamf-geemf ella hachi condeesn nal itkobeku.” (Ever heard of product?), I gurgle. And finally when he says, “Shaarta, frighta?” (Short or spiked?) I say “Nimge gothallaa..” (You know it best, dude) and lie back and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The daaeth of European drama


So I finally did it. The 4000 mile schlep across the seven seas to the haven of Bangalore theatre. Not just once but twice over.My motivation? Free tickets kindly supplied by a cousin to watch her play: An adaptation of Anton Chekhov's Cherry Orchard, called "City of Gardens". Well it was fun alright. The seating was on mattresses arranged amphitheatre-style, close to the stage. The acting was great and so was the Bangalorification of the play, though I think deeper character sketches might have made them a tad more convincing

The second play was - yawn - a done-to-death adaptation of Woyzeck: one of those dreary European plays where everyone dies. The acting was stodgy and faw-faw, and the original storyline, bleh as it was, was drawn out over 2 agonizing hours. Every so often, the hero would tumble dramatically off a cardboard box and play dead, much to the relief of the audience, only to spring back to life moments later and set off on another mind numbing monologue. My life hit rock bottom when one of the side actors (in a Vishnuvardhan style moustache and beret) climbed up on a box and talked about "daaeth". The background music was an unnervingly Indian sounding hodge-podge of various European classical composers, painstakingly named in the playbill. A vaguely admirable part of the play, however, was the set: a bizarrely painted backdrop with lots of doors and windows, that was reused as a rowhouse, a tavern and a wall for the hero to pee on.

All in all - fbbthbbp. I don't know what they were aiming at. If it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it worked somewhat. But if not, did they really expect to be taken seriously when the gloriously tanned hero was accused of looking "white as a sheet", or when they played chutneyed Dvorak at a tavern in small-town Germany??!! Tsk.

All said and done though, I think the overall Rangashankara experience was worth the monster schlep across town. For one, it was amazing to see so many identically dressed people in there. The collection of terra-cota jewellery, mat chappals and handloom prints in the audience could make Fab India look like Laxmi blouse-piece junction in comparison. The kid at the door gave me a "you don't deserve a playbill" look as I walked in. Luckily the sabudana vadas and the coffee at the cafe had put me in a good mood by then, so he barely escaped being strangled with his own jhola bag.

So yeah, I'll go again, But togged in my artsy-fartsy best this time, so I can look all intense and theatre-circuity. I'll atleast be guaranteed a playbill that way.

Honourable mentions: J for going gaaahahahaha during the most serious parts of the play, and A for being official shusher of the group: they'd better pay you for doing that the next time :)

Cartoon: "Go and adjust yourself at the back, girlie." - Line from Premaloka (kannada) starring Ravichandran Vishnuvardhan and Juhi Chawla.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sexy Bach


See boss, there's no point in being indignant about some things. Like what you're not supposed to do at western classical concerts for example. We're Indian, I agree, naturally effusive, demonstratively appreciative and all that sort of thing. But sorry, no go during Bachtime. So for your own protection and that of those around you, here is a comprehensive list of don'ts at a Western Classical concert.

Suspend all activity when the music starts. If you have your finger up your nose, leave it there. If a mosquito buzzes annoyingly around you, too bad. Try and bargain with it telepathically to leave you alone in exchange for the address of a carnatic concert in the same neighbourhood.

Don't clap. You'll get into trouble. Western classical musicians lose their mojo if there's applause between movements. Mimic a 1970s concrete water-maiden until the music stops. Look around for someone who seems knowledgeable. Rub your palms non-committally when this person applauds. If the artist acknowledges the applause, clap 3 times and smile wanly.

Athough unthinkable before, it is now considered polite and modern to whistle and hoot while applauding at a classical concert. However, be warned that it is not you that should be doing it. YOU - are supposed to continue resembling a frozen coelacanth. The polite whistles should emerge from experienced polite whistlers.

Do not say Sabhash, Aaaaan and Bhale in the middle of a complex aria. Do not waggle your head and say mchxl-mchxl when the soprano hits a high C.

Do not say silly things like "Actually all weshtran musics are in Shankarabharana raaga only." Multiple carnatic music buffs in the audience will jump up immediately and say "Yes yes". They will then proceed to bore everyone senseless with comparisons to Yedhukula Kambhoji and Kiravani and there will be no end to it.

If you're bored, do not make things worse by looking at the artist's music score to see how many pages they have left to play. Chances are that the artist will play till the last page, flip the music over and play it all over again from the top. These classical musicians I tell you.

Try not to focus on the conductor's bottom, though it is the most visible part of the concert. The music does not come from there, though the rhythm does.

Your babies are cute. Leave them AT HOME. Do not inflict a stuffy adult concert on them. They are not interested. The rest of the audience isn't interested in listening to them wail through one either.

If your cell phone rings in the middle of the concert, commit hara-kiri immediately. Yes I realize it takes two people to do it. Don't worry, I will help you.

You are not allowed to arrive or leave in the middle of a piece unless you're dying. Even if you are, you'll probably live through the piece anyway, thanks to the preservative effect of your state of suspended animation.

Do not request an old hindi number at a Bach concert. Well I suppose you could, actually. Go ahead, enjoy ma.

However, do not, at the end of the request, say, "Oh what is there, anybody can play piano ting ting ping ping." I realize Shammi Kapoor has convinced you that you can produce excellent western classical by kneading imaginary chappati dough over a Baby Grand. What you don't realize is that this technique will not work unless there is a heavily mascaraed weeping woman with a bun as big as her head, a disapproving father in a dressing gown AND a grand staircase for him to hobble down.

Linger around after the concert with a polite smile on your face. Chances are you'll be photographed and captioned: "All smiles - Syamanthakamani and Selvaganapathy" on page 3 the next day.

And finally, do remember to take the program list home. You can mug up the names of the pieces and rattle them off at the unsuspecting people you have incarcerated in your basement for this purpose.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sandalwood, here I come (ish)

Ah yes hello, I am back. And for those who don't remember me anymore, allow me me re-introduce myself. "Hello, jeste my name is Bikerdude, malayalam vooice-oaver artistte."

Whaa? Yes. This is the new me, and this what I did on my first day of official unemployment.

Whaa? Yes. I bade adieu to my software engineer avatar a couple of weeks ago to see if I could pursue my true interests in the arts. Well atleast that's what I wrote in my resignation letter. Bwahaha. I'm not sure how much pursuing I'm going to be doing, but this was definitely an interesting start:

A few months ago, I got in touch with Suchitra Lata, an immensely talented musician/composer and virtuoso veena player, who very sweetly invited me to check out her studio in Jaynagar. They do some amazing indie jazz-fusion music, aside from mainstream stuff like jingles, voice overs and radio clips. Suchitra's brilliant Album Mobius Strip (2006) has a dreamy loungey sort of feel to it, with very crisply executed veena leads all through. A wonderfully refreshing change from the usual ersatz tracks that you hear in our page 3 lounge bars across town.

So off I went to the studio last week. After I'd gawped at the all studio equipment and was sufficiently bowled over by Suchitra's fusion tracks, she asked me if I'd like do a voice over for a photo printer ad. "Um, sure", I said, and was led into the recording room and asked to sit in front of an extremely cool looking mike. She handed me a 4 page manuscript with a series of jalebis drawn onto it. I was to do the voice-over in Goad's oawn Language.

Whaa? Yes.

"Err.. no English?" I asked nervously. "Err, no English", she said, "Unless you want to do the voice over in Tamil or Gujarati. I stared at the jalebis intently, hoping I'd suddenly be able to read the script as fluently as I could as a kid. No hope there. I finally gave up and begged to be excused for a day so I could go home home, weep for an hour and then attempt to make sense out of it.

After several hours of laborious Malayalam-to-English transliteration (and standing out in the rain to get the perfect nasal twang), I went back to the studio to do the voice-over. Gokul, the brilliant sound engineer, smiled encouragingly at me through the glass window of the recording room and cued me to begin.

"Namaskaram, ende peru Bikerdude. Njaan oru photographer aanu..." (Hello I am Bikerdude and I am a photographer....) I began, looking steadfastly away from Suchitra who had collapsed on the studio floor in uncontrollable giggles the moment I began speaking in my rah-rah malayalam accent. Gokul played my voice back over the headphones. I looked around for a sharp intrument to end everybody's agony right there. Apparently they were used to reactions like mine, and had padded the studio walls as a precautionary measure. After several re-takes and some cool cut-paste jobs by Gokul, the voice-over was ready. It was maginally less hijrotic than when I first started, but still sounded like Hermann Gundert on coconut schnapps.

"I sing and play the guitar a bit too, you know.." I told Suchitra hesitantly, after we'd done the voice over. "Oh?" she said. "Let's do a scratch recording then." It was for a kannada film track. The lyrics hadn't come in yet, she said. But not to worry, I could sing it anyway using the phrases 'love me', 'touch me', 'kiss me', and 'oooh bayyyybehh' in random order.

I sang. Gokul recorded, and played back the track over the headphones. It sounded like a cross between a foghorn and Rajamma miss. They made me sing the same track in a higher key. It sounded like a cross between the HMT factory siren and Rajamma miss.

"Uh-huh, cool, so lets see how that works out", Suchitra said diplomatically, after I was done. "And next time, try not to wobble so much while you sing, yeah?" I simpered, melted into a puddle and trickled down the studio stairs into my car .

So if you hear of mass-malayalee-suicides resulting from a printer infomercial, you'll know who was responsible. And as for me being the next kannada singing sensation, don't hold your breath. I'm not quite sure "Love, touch, kiss or hold me in no particular order baby" will make it to the top ten countdown any time soon.

Thanks tons Suchitra and Gokul for being so patient and long-suffering. You really are awesome people!!

Sandalwood = The kannada film industry ala Bollywood, Kollywood, Tollywood etc.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Commercial Eat

One of the happiest moments in my mother's life, she says, is when they built her a luxury ladies' toilet on Dispensary road in the late eighties. This facility essentially doubled her shopping time, which in turn meant that my brother and I got twice as much food to eat, to prevent us from grumbling. I therefore dedicate this post to that life-saving toilet, for introducing us to the gourmet delights of charming Commercial Street.

Most of the shops on Commercial street are atleast as old as I am, and many older than my grandmother. Which, I have been instructed by her to inform you, isn't that old, ok? But if you'd like to give the shopping a miss and concentrate like I do on the food, a good place to start is the slightly overpriced, but lovely Woody's.

Stop sniggering, I think the owners of Woody's wanted to do a hep take on Woodlands, a bigger restaurant chain, when they opened this joint. Do try their dee-licious kotte-kadabus from coastal Karnataka: fragrant rice idlies steamed in cylindrical baskets(called kottes) woven from thaaLe-yele leaves. Slurp. Don't hesitate to try all the other yummy stuff on their menu. As long as you can get over the staff who will ignore you even if you commit hara-kiri at the counter, and the mechanical lady who'll say "Towkenn Fifffty Ffffour" in an ominous voice every 5 minutes or so.

A couple of buildings to the left, is the famous Bhagatram Sweets. Legend has it that the stoves of Bhagatram have never stopped burning since the shop opened in 1948. I can say without hesitation, that they make the world's best Sindhi gulab jamoons. Also do try their gorgeous jalebis, their lovely dumroat (baked yellow pumpkin halwa) and their chandrakala (a gulab jamoon stuffed in a badshah dipped in kesar-flavoured syrup. Sob!). Their carrot halwa and their famous 4pm samosas are superlatively delicious too. They moved from their dungeon like shop (lovingly named the Tunnel of Love) into a rather ordinary place next door a couple of years ago. The charming couple (Mr and Mrs Bhagatram Jr.?) that manage the shop speak a singsong mish-mash of Tamil,Kannada, English and Sindhi to their staff and customers, that many people stop by just to listen to.

Diagonally across the street is Anand sweets, equally well known and just as delicious. Their chaat section has some rather unusual numbers that I'm a little hesitant to try. While they have an array of mouthwatering North Indian sweets, do try their badam milk - absolutely hits the spot after a hot and hassled shopping spree. If you're tired of sweet things to eat, step to the back lane of commercial street where you can eat some really yummy streetside dosa and those odd looking triangular samosas.

Midway down Commercial street is the lovely Shiv Sagar. This is a standard Udupi joint with a humungous vegetarian menu, often bordering on the bizarre. Their Mexican selection has enchiladas (more like enchina maarayas* actually) topped with kissan sauce, and their pizzas have about a km. of grated amul cheese on their heads. Eh, whom are we kidding, they're delicious. Eat your heart out, Naples. But if you're not in the mood for experimentation, their North Indian and Indian-chinese selection will definitely appeal to your palate. Not to mention their array of excellent idlis, dosas and other scrumptious South Indian specialities. Top it all off with a Gud-Bud (Udupi special sundae with a story), Merry Window Special, or one of the millions of other lovely sundaes on the menu. Sorry, but you definitely need to visit Shiv Sagar about 15 times before you can decide whether you like it or not.

At the end of commercial street (on Kamaraj Rd actually), is a little ice cream shop tucked away in the basement of a run down complex. If you havent eaten tamarind or jamoon ice cream before, you must go there. Seriously though, Natural Ice Creams has some delicious all-natural seasonal flavours that will suprise you. My favourites are tender coconut and sugarcane-ginger. Do cut them some slack though. They're usually poorly stocked and the staff is sometimes frosty, but they'll warm up to you once you make a few appreciative noises and solicious enquiries about the ice cream.

Around the corner from Naturals, on Dispensary road, is the yummy Lalita's paratha point. Really good parathas of every shape and flavour and some surprisingly good biriyani. Do try when you're starving and want a great, satisfying punjabi meal. A little further up the road from Lallo's is Tiwari bros, a Calcutta based sweet shop with standard issue marwari sweets and some nice samosa-kachori sort of situations to go with them. They don't use onions or garlic, so this is a good place for fussy foodies or couples who, um, intend to have a long romantic evening in close proximity.

And now that you've eaten, it's time to check out commercial street's shopping wonders (preferably in a car at 40kmph). Check out the famous ladies' lane and the chappal gully where you can easily waste away and die unnoticed waiting for your female companions to finish. Go to the Green Shop, Brown Shop, Royal Mens Wear, Jean Junction or Your Shop(pe) for clothes, suitcases and sundries. Take a dekko at Eastern Stores, Bangalore's biggest woollens shop until the eighties. The owner of Eastern Stores will weasel his way into your heart (and wallet) by saying endearing things like "This is your shop ma, your shop. Take it and go ma, yours only". Also check out the series of ladies' tailors (all named Mr Rao) on Dispensary rd., and C Krishniah Chetty and sons, an expensive but exquisite jewellery store in an antique building in the middle of the street. Do walk around and check out the scores of other venerable old shopping institutions on the street when you have the time.

Frankly though, two venerable institutions down and I'm ready to tank up on some yummy Bhagatram gulab-jamoons again.

*Enchina maaraya = "Whaaaat I say?" in Tulu

Monday, July 7, 2008

And the winners are...

Yes my dearies, it's prize distribution time.

The winners of the most scandalous and/or entertaining stories about cheap places to eat at MG road (see comments section of previous post on the same subject) are:

1. The anonymous VAN: For wearing a tie to Koshy's. And for being from cwashtal AndhrPradeshandi.

2. The human bean: For posting 6 comments in 48 seconds.

3. Karen: For spoiling his chances by mentioning multinational food chains.

4. Scribbler: Ladies/Chinese quota.

Consolation prize: Bikerdude, for doing admirable clean up job of majestic loo like usage of comment space.

Honourable mentions:

Nigel Jeejeebhoy: For vivid descriptions of MG Road in the early jurassic period.

Anoushka: Because I already drew her.

Pri: In the hope that she'll get over that ghastly kheer kadam at some point

And the rangashankara crowd: Please do not kill me.

And finally, the prize:
Bonda soup for yevverybody, commaaan yenjaay I say.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

MG Road for under 50 bucks

"If y'all don't 'ave pots of money, there's not much you can do on MG road men", I heard a friend moan. Actually he said yuvarself instead of y'all and paatsu instead of pots (he was from Nellore dishtrict), but I couldn't print that. Suitably challenged, I wandered off to the end of MG road and decided to take a stroll down to see how many places I could still get a satisfying meal at, for under 50 bucks.

First stop- K C Das on Church St. Ok stop screaming, I know those sweets are ridiculously priced. But here's the trick. Step in, sit yourself down and order a plate of luchis or motor kachuri with alurdom and yellow dal. Or maybe a couple of singaras, a rasgulla or three and some deliciously divine mishti doi. Slllurrrrp. When the surly waiter flings the bill at your face, you'll be pleasantly surprised to see that you've only drummed up a bill of about 40 rupees or so! They also sell sweets per piece which work quite well with your budget. Those cashew/pista balls are dangerously priced at 17 bucks apiece though.

Tumble about 20m downhill from KC das and walk into Sheshamahal restaurant. This certainly has to be the pleasantest south indian restaurant for miles. Try their hearty bonda-soup in the evenings. Ok go crazy and throw in a maddur vade, some nippat-chakli and mangalore bajji and wash it all down with some filter coffee. Not more than 35 bucks, I assure you. Happiness joyness! Oh and do try their oota (lunch) section which is actually on the MG side, in a small lane beside Arya bhavan sweets.

Which brings me to Arya Bhavan sweets. Lovely, surly staff, and a variety of low-priced sweets and chaats to choose from. Try their speciality: Baby chaat kachori. A sort of edible flour basket filled with all manner of yummy things. Might burn a hole in your stomach, but not in your wallet. Ha ha. Manchi joku kaadhandi? Also try their excruciatingly sweet malai lassi. Lovely for a brilliant 23 minute sugarbuzz.

For some really great filter coffee, try India coffee depot, a small hole in the wall opposite Premier bookstore on Museum Road. The kindly gentleman there has a strange system. He'll take 5 rupees from you and hand you a doubled paper cup full of piping hot filter coffee. He'll then walk in, tear a coupon ceremoniously out of a book, rip it up into shreds and fling it out of the window, all the time smiling and making small talk as you finish your coffee.

Pani puri my loves? Try the chaat walla right around the corner from India coffee depot. Deeeelicious pani puri (sooji ke hain sir, ek dum mulaayam) for ten bucks, with a sookha poori (with channa, lemon and a magic chaat masala) thrown in for free. The best gabuk-gabuk-ten-rufis-thank-you place ever.

For round-the-clock cheap food, there's no place like Empire. A vast menu, immaculately dressed staff and many, many inebriated clubbers on a Saturday night. Try their shawarma rolls and dosa-chicken combos. Also their yum ghee rice, dal fry, kerala/ceylon parathas, chikken gebaabuh (kabab in Malabari-speak), lychee melba and much much more. Their Arabic restaurant upstairs is a little disappointing, but the food's not bad at all for the price.

For more inexpensive South Indian, try Kaycees down the road. Their lunch thalis, especially the Naarth Indian mini-meals, where you get to choose the gravy that accompanies your fluffy white kulchas, are really quite delicious.

Midway down MG road, it's been business as usual at the India Coffee House. For the past 4000 years. The grouchy waiters, also around the same age, have for some reason become uber polite these days. Gone are the days when they'd bite your head off if you dared to ask for a pepper shaker. They now stand around in an avuncular fashion, and even half salute when you tip them. While their cutlets, sandwiches, coffee and masala dosas are not bad at all, do not miss their slurpily yumptious scrambled eggs. They are arguably the best in Bangalore, and served on toast in VERY chipped china. Super value for money.

Walk down Brigade road and up rest house crescent (or Pecos lane as it is more popularly known) and the first thing you hear is some super cool music from a green spiral staircase. That, my dear friends, is the infamous Pecos - Brigade road's best kept... err non-secret. Step in, and well, step out, if you don't get it. But if you do, welcome to what was once my world. Beautiful (sob sob) music, cheap beer that on a good day tastes like Rosy chechi's dishwater, natural airconditioning (I'm not kidding. Sit by the window that overlooks Pick 'n' Move), a sav crowd and surprisingly affordable food. Try their tacos and sausage steamed rice with your dishwater. Slurp.

A little past Pecos on the left, is the infamous Dubai Plaza that houses the lovely 'Taste of Tibet'. A smash hit with the college crowd, here's where you can gorge on momos, phingsha, tingmo, thupka and all manner of unpronounceable Tibetan things for very little money. You'll soon learn to love the slow motion movements of the staff, the lovely tomato relish and the tinkly Tibetan music that comes free with every meal!

How can I end any food story without a mention of my favourite eatery (mostly for non food related reasons) - Nilgiri's. Walk into the newly refurbished cakeshop and help yourself to puffs, pastries and all manner of yummy things for well under 20 bucks. They now even have pre-packaged dosa-chutney, poori-and-potato sort of deals that you have to zap in the microwave before you eat, which quite frankly look rather yucky. What you might want to check out is their 10-paise-per-gram lunch buffet, where an endearingly grouchy attendant spoons out as much rice, gravy and curry as you want into a plate and charges you by weight. Fascinating, and quite flattering when you notice she's written your weight down as 188 grams.

And that, I think, (besides Ullas refreshments, Brindavan Wotel and the noodle person on Dickenson Rd), brings my cheap and best MG road eateries story to a close. Other places, stories of unimaginable illnesses from eating at said places, anecdotes and observations most welcome!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Aargh-apella!

Friday, the 20th could well have been the 13th.

"Hey, let's go listen to Stanford University's acapella group perform today", said a friend. "Aye thu come ya, It will be fun, and besides how bad can it be? They're only performing for 45 minutes." "Oh them?", I said, googling furiously. They were called Raagapella, I discovered. Stanford university's South Asian focussed all-male acapella group. Oho. They'd been selected as part of Stanford's eight acapella groups through a gruellingly intense audition process. Achacha. They only got 3 hours of sleep a night, because of all the practices, the article said. Mchxl mchxl. "Uyyo cammaaan I say" I hollered back into the phone at the friend, and off we went.

We reached the Alliance Française half an hour early, hoping to catch seats in what we thought would be a packed house. The group was performing as part of the Fête de la Musique, a free music evening showcasing musical talent from all over the country and beyond.

The show was running about an hour late as usual. Which was cool because it gave us time to check out the group that was playing before them: a talented but fairly pedestrian jazz-fusion group, with a cherubic dude on the western drums, a slightly apologetic looking Indian percussionist and a lost bass-guitarist. My brain switched off the moment the apologetic percussionist switched on his laptop and played an ersatz background score for them to drum over. A couple of well executed, intricate konnukol interludes and bland guitar riffs (all at an earsplittingly high decibel level) later, they left. Hopefully straight to the shower that they'd forgotten to take before coming on stage.

A hush fell over the audience. About ten men, identically clad in red zari-kurtas walked in and took their positions on stage. "Ah, there they are", sighed the friend and settled into her seat, looking forward to a fabulous hour ahead. The lead kurta fluttered down from on stage. "Hi how are you guys doin'?" (Oooerr. Ah well they've been in the US for a while, I suppose the NRI twang is forgiveable.) "We're Raaegapeylla", he said, launching into a long winded explanation of the type of music they were into. A few "raaeguhs" and "taaeluhs" into his speech, and I had zoned out. I even missed the part where he explained why girls in particular were supposed to like their music. I was taking bites out of the seat in front of me by then.

Finally, they began. Lead kurta blew into a pitch pipe, pumped his arm up and down with the skill of a Saidapet housewife at 4am, and the group began to hum a low 3-note chord. The pitch pipe hadn't helped. They were flat. Kurta after kurta fluttered down to the mike and sang a line each (flat), before taking their places back with the red mass of gyrating hips on stage, still on the same chord (flat). We looked at each other. "Probably not warmed up", we reassured each other, and waited for the next song.

A scientist type slithered down to the mike next, his longish hair in straggly wisps around a standard issue wide-eyed NRI leer. "Hope you guys are doin' just fab tonight. We're now gonna do a modal (dai!) piece for you guys in a Raega and its based on a shlogum." (Ah. Tamil-ABCD. Hmm.) "We've also tried to mix in a John Denver number" (Aiyo! Poor fellow what he did to you I say?). "But first, Im gonna do you an aalaa-banai" (Uh huh, definitely Tamil).

The visions in red went "Pum-pum-pum-PUMMM" for about 40 seconds, which I later figured was supposed to have been the sound of a tanpura (left out in the rain for 40 days and 40 nights presumably). A billy goat bleated out from somewhere. The Alliance caretaker jumped up with his stick to chase it away, but sat down suspiciously when he realized that the sound was coming from on stage. It was long haired scientist type. He had closed his eyes and was doing his aalaa-banai. It was - ooh, you guessed? Flat. He'd suddenly shudder from head to toe and go a-a-a-a-a-a-a, presumably to placate the djinn that had jumped into his pajamas before the concert. Finally, he left. The Chinese (north-east-indian?) member of the group came down to sing his line: A deep bass growl emerged from his dimunitive figure. Not half bad! Pretty darned good even. Unfortunately his elaborate churidar had slid down over his feet and made him look like a handsomish Yoda. "Song sung, I nicely have", I thought I heard him murmur before he flapped back upstage.

Long-haired scientist type came back down and went "tae kit ta tah, ta laengu takka tah." for 2 minutes, accompanied by a voice-percussionist member of the group. I had finished chewing the chair in front of me, and was gnawing pensively on my friend's obligingly offered shoulder by then. My cell phone buzzed. It was a distress message from Missy M, whom I had also invited to watch the spectacle: "Headache. Pain. Must go. Will talk. Later. Water. Room service."

I couldn't take any more either. I left quietly after the song was over, and cried into my pillow all night.

Stanford Raagapella. I have two words to say to you: "What the...?!!"
OK three: "Fbbbthhhbbpp".

Acknowledgements: Mem (for offering gnawable shoulder), Subz (for scarring us for life), Apps (for being long suffering and stoic)

Placatory disclaimer: Don't get all hot under the collar boys, you weren't so bad. Just tune up a bit and you'll be fine.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Radio Goo Goo (or Radio Ga Ga Part Too Too)

My slightly less-than-reverent post on Bangalore's chatterbreed seems to have attracted a fair amount of attention from the accused. And for those of you who quite understandably skipped reading the comment track of the post, here are the responses of some of the RJs who wrote back after reading it:

Manasvi (AIR) said:
Glad to know you love AIR. Many people call it old fashioned. But those who work there would only know the effort it takes to be a part of AIR. and the number of restrictions we have to consider before every word is spoken.

Priya Ganapathy (ex Radio City) said:
One of my friends told me to check out this blog and man, i haftu admit, u guys made my day!! Full majaa happened. I can't believe that there are quite a few who still remember the 'Core FM team of Radio City!' and so many who loved the Retro Show & the Late Show. I had an awesome time while I was there, and it feels utterly wunnerful that u were listening. For those of you who need an update on my life - I quit fulltime radio but now host events, do voice-overs and am back to writing. Travelling a lot... but if I find a radio station that's calling out my name - u can be sure to hear me on the airwaves;-) Till then, take care and thanks for ur wonderful messages! Yours in music n madness - Priya Ganapathy/Lingo Leela/Sister Stella

Rashmi and Prithvi (Radio One) said:
Can't start without saying that your post Radio Ga Ga brought a smile on all our faces on a day when Radio One works without takin a pause - Friday (25th of April i.e last week). And this of course included my station head Shyju Varkey, the breakfast jock Prithvi, Ulfat Sultan a k a Agent Rakesh, a few of our sales guys and me. These instances makes us feel good of our presence in the market and assures us of the connect we have with our Bangalorean Buddies just like anyone of us at Radio One who find an instant relationship establshing with Chamrajpet Charles of Prof Sultan. Thank you so much for the support and of course for tuning in.


After a couple of emails to and fro, I realized Rashmi and Prithvi's Radio One office was almost next door to my workplace, so off I went last Friday to meet them. Acutely aware of the high fashion state that my friday work wear was in, I decided to accessorize a little by smoothing down my frazzled hair with some good quality BWSSB water before meeting them. Thank you 30% relative humidity, in the 3 minutes that it took to walk down to the station, my hair was back to resembling the Great Indian Macaque again.

A pretty Rashmi breezed into the foyer as soon as I came in, and took me inside to meet 'everybody'. Very soon, a nattily dressed Prithvi was shaking me by the hand and leading me into the recording room. Inside, the pretty RJ pavitra (adh yen neer kudeetheero pa, nangu solp kodi (what water you drink-o-pa)) was at the console, studying all the intellectual smses that were coming in from her listeners. "Hai SXZVLW. Hehehe" flashed the most recent one, which she efficiently deleted with one graceful schloomp, while turning on the music, feeding the cat, doing her taxes and calling back an smser in another fluid motion.

Rashmi and Prithvi dragged me out of the studio before I could fall at Pavithra's feet and beg to be accepted as a disciple forever, and whisked me away to the main office. "Yaar ivrella?" (Who are all these people?) I asked looking mika-mika at everybody, feeling exactly like the legendary Boré Gowda did on his first trip to the city. Tinkly Rashmi laughter bounced off the walls of the office. "Ivraa? (These peopleaa?) Well, the guy sitting over there is RJ Anjaan, and this person here, is your friend Ulfat Sultan", she said pointing to a smart dude tapping away industriously at what I'm sure was his next hilarious clip. "Oh hi", he said, looking up momentarily. "Abb..ab.. gnh", I said, waving weakly and pretending to melt into the floor.

The station director came out soon enough, and at that point I completely lost it and gibberred away incoherently in Kannada. There was a light tap on my shoulder. It was Prithvi. "You know all those nice things you just said to the director? Yeah, so he doesnt speak Kannada." he said. "Oh hauda? Hehehe mhemhe", I simpered and turned back to the director. "Adhe budhdhi, nim radiyaa aithallraa? Bhal beshtyth nod budhdhra. Belg-belghoth jagli myaag kuntkaand kyaalthen nwaadi." (Charming programming, dear sir. I enjoy listening to it greatly as I sip my cha in the breakfast room), I continued in an inexplicable pan-karnataka halli-mix. For some reason, the English section in my pea brain had decided to pack its bags and take a vacation to Nelmangala.

Before I could cause any more embarrassment to the director or the staff, Prithvi and Rashmi dragged me out, still gibberring away furiously in Nelmangalese. They finally lured me into the elevator and out of the building with promises of a bonda at Kaycees.

Aiyo, mast maja banth ammawra - swaamyoi! Bhal thyanks kanra.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A letter to ze pooblick

Guten Tag.

Zis is your airportdirektor speaking. All ze papers are reporting already about ze screw ups in my new airport. I am ankry about zis. You are mean, mean people, and zerefore I vud like to say ze following. Boo.

Howeffer, in the greater pooblic interest of your mutterland, I am klarifyink ze misconceptions zat have formed in your kopfs, vun by vun, as follows:

1. I don't give a spaetzle what you sink about konnektivity to my airport. Take your time, its not like you can go anyvere else to fly. Muhahaha.

2. You haff problem vith ze old airport klosing. I belief zere are two solutions for zis problem.
(a) My vay
(b) Ze high vay.
Ze answer to 2(b) is NH7. Let us not go there. Getting to my airport is your business. You can get to my airport by megic carpet for all I care. Auf weidersehen HAL. You vill not be missed here at Deffanahalli.

3. I vos not eating bratwurst ven ze conveyor belt in ze beggege claim died ze moment it vos svitched on. In fect, I vos pacing the floor boards composing my next indignant press release on how my airport operations haff been kompletely rheady for months.

4. I haff been constantly warning my staff to use the aerobridches only to connect people from terminal to flight. Not as slippery slide (whee!) for zeir personal enchoyment. However, zey are refusing to listen. I zerefore recommend zat all you lazy esses undergo an intensmountaineeringtrainingprogram like I haff, to enable you to board ze plane using a series of rope laddahs. Zis is ze only vay fohvard, konsidering ze benne-mudde's zat we have operating ze aerobridch zese days. Jooseless fellows I tell you.

5. You vont me to build train to come to ze airport? Vot silliness. Vosh your face and think lochically. If you haff train, vy must you come already to ze airport? Vell okay, if you insist, giff me money and I vil build train for you. I vill not hire my aerobridch operators to drive train, do not vorry.

4. The lostandfoundaeroplanesdepartment has been rheady for months. Howeffer, since the lostandfoundaeroplanesdepartmentmanager vos having trrouble findink his vay to the lostandfoundaeroplanesdepartment through the long line of people waiting to check in to ze missink airkraft, he vos not able to locate ze missink airkraft. Move, you dumkopfs, ozervise you vill be heah forevah.

5. Zis is airport. Not texi stend. Or Murugeshpalya cultural association. I vill hire Helga from Herrenberg and Wolfgang from Wurtenburg to drrive my texis if I please. If you can say "Meine airportdirektor rhoolz" in a konvincing accent, you vill be hired. Ozervise, boo hoo. Go drrive a Volfo boos. Harumph.

Yes and now back to my bratwurst.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Can't get any verse

Just I will tell off one poetry
So kindly to be keeping the quiet ri.
It may be shallow
Or crass, you faallow?
And irritate you senseless, it might ri.

Onnaf my friend, a daaktar,
Loved a girl and quite raacked her.
Their honey moonu
Came a tad too soonu
'Cos when she asked him to wear protection, he maacked her.

Yettanother boy in a call center
Had a big row with his mentor.
He is currently regarded
As mentorry retarded
After she ate the book he lent her.

A man sat down at Koshy's
And ordered two masala doshys.
The waiter glared.
Not that the man cared.
He, in fact, calmly picked his noshys.

A young girl from Banashankari
Wore jewels and assorted junkery.
When someone asked why,
She said, "Simple. I
Just want to ensnare a hunk ri."

Raj Saxena, while at Forum
Would never maintain decorum.
When they'd throw him out,
He'd scream and shout.
Once he even pulled off his jeans and tore 'em.

Does this story have a moral?
Visual, tactile or aural?
Or a heart-rending
Rhyming ending?
No, it doesn't.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Flyover feveru is backu.

2009 is when it's all going to happen. The BBMP, having partially completed the world's biggest roller coaster for everyday use on Sankey Road, has now decided to go super high tech. They're going to build a skyway on stilts from Minsk square all the way to Hebbal. They're also throwing in landscaping, a traveling circus, thirteen temple elephants and a high speed train that will reach you to the airport before you can say Hunsemavur Nanjundaswamy S.K.

This is just part of the grandiose master plan. People from Electronics City will now link up to the airport via a series of three skyways. At the end of the journey, they will have the option of purchasing pictures of their terror struck faces taken just as their cars begin to hurtle down the steepest ramp of the skyway.

People from Whitefield and Indiranagar need not worry either. A skyway will fly them over the old airport, past Domlur and into a large hole in the ground located near Johnson market. Illuminated signs bearing the inscription: "We suffered for 40 years, it's your turn now, gaaaahahaha", sponsored by the Yelahanka residents association, will be installed in the hole to make the descent more bearable.

A special corps of 83 traffic policemen specially selected on the basis of paunch size will be stationed throughout the length of the skyway to frantically motion the traffic along. Special parachutes will be provided to them to quickly exit the skyway in the event of a traffic jam.

National petroleum reserves are expected to hit zero 6 months after the inauguration of the airport. Bicycling on the skyways will therefore be actively encouraged. To provide further encouragement, speakers will be installed at regular intervals throughout the skyway, playing the song "Aye Gangu, ee biku kalisi kodu nangu*" on endless loop.

In anticipation of frequent power failures rendering the high speed train useless, passengers will be provided with a cone of kadle puri** each and marched to the airport in single file. Senior citizens however, will be suspended from the tracks and provided with a set of hand pedals to winch themselves slowly but safely to the airport. The IPL cheerleading squad will be recruited to recite "Dum lagake, aisa" to a pair of bullocks that will be airlifted onto the tracks to pull the train to safety.

It's all going to happen. By 2009.
So far, we've got this:

BBMP, we love you ma, ok? oaaaaakay.

*Dear Mr Gangadharaiah, would you be so kind as to educate me on the workings of this charming two-wheeled transportation device?
** Karnataka equivalent of bhel

Acknowledgements: Picture of the BDA Junction magic box received with thanks from the kind offices of Camera Karan.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The mountain cake-shop

It was 5 in the evening. Our grandfather had left us at the cake shop while he went to get tickets for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin at Rex, next door. My brother and I were ravenous. Cakes of every shape and colour beckoned at us from glass cabinets all around. Goodie shelves were stacked sky-high with pastries, patties, puffs and pies. Our only hope of getting anywhere close to the counters was to crawl under the legs of the crowds that thronged them. After a couple of slithers, twists and crawls, we finally managed. We stood on tiptoe and reached as high up as we could, waving wildly to attract the attention of the surly attendant. She paid us no heed, choosing instead to scowl at all the others that had managed to reach the front of the counter.

In sheer desperation, my brother yanked at the hem of a skirt near his head. A chalky voice neighed down at us from above: "Eh, look two littl'uns. What y'all want my darlings?" it said. "D..d..danish pastry."said my brother. "Two", I added, holding my fingers up at a smiling, heavily made up face. "'Ere, give dese two sweet'earts danish pastry neh." said the large woman to the surly attendant. The attendant reluctantly slapped two drippy, treacly treats on the counter and returned our change. "Go siddown dere 'n' eat." she said, pointing to an unoccupied table. "Y'all came 'lone eh?" "No, our grandfather's gone to the theatre to buy tickets." we chimed in chorus. "Ooh, holidayzuh?" she said, and turned back to continue haggling with the attendant, while my brother and I ran to the table slavering over our spoils.

This is my earliest memory of Nilgiri's - the most celebrated cake shop in South India. They'd been around over seventy five years before I arrived on the scene, and still stand strong and proud today. New cakeshops have come and gone, some with arguably better fare than their old world competitor. None, however, have been able to replicate their unbeatable always-been-there flavour, that seems to have ingrained itself irreversibly into our palates.

By the 1940s, Nilgiri's had moved down from their mountain abode into a little shop on Brigade Road stocked with homemade English goods. When they started their booming fancy cakes business in the '50s, everybody in Bangalore ordered from them. For every function, a cake more special than the previous one would be delivered fresh from Nilgiri's. For a wedding reception, my grandparents ordered a cake shaped in the form of an entire stage. For Pongal (yes we are incurably cantonment), they ordered a sugarcane shaped one. My mother's birthday cake was in the shape of a house, my uncle's was like an aeroplane, and the crowning glory was a rich Vat 69 bottle cake specially ordered for my great grandfather's birthday.

Nilgiri's, though hugely popular by the '60s, was still a friendly little shop. My mother remembers an incident from back then, when she arrived by auto on Brigade Road and realized she'd left her purse back home as usual. She hesitated only for a moment before deciding what to do. After admonishing the auto driver for not bowing low enough, she adjusted pin no. 112 in her bouffant hairstyle, batted her mascara'ed eyes and told him to wait by the side of the road, so as not to inconvenience the 8 vehicles that plied on it daily. Looking steadfastly away from the risqué poster at the Opera theatre, she took 347 mini-steps across the pavement (on account of her double wrapped saree), and stood at the Nilgiri's counter, knotting and unknotting her pallu worriedly. "What happened ma?" asked Mr Chenniappan, the kindly proprietor. The young mutter, amidst heaving bosoms, fluttering eyelids, and helpless looks cast hither and thither, explained her predicament. Without a moment's hesitation, Mr Chenniyappan emptied a bag full of 1 paisa coins onto the counter and said, "Take as much as you want ma". She counted out 100 coins, the staggering fare from Malleswaram to Brigade road, and gave them to the waiting driver, who was standing with his palms folded over his head and one leg crossed over the other, waiting for his fare in a meditative trance. He accepted the money with another low stately bow and sputtered away, humming the latest Sivaji hit.

But that was then. By the time I was tall enough to reach the top of the pastry counter, things had changed. The sweet little mountain-bakery had been replaced by Nilgiri's Supermarket, the biggest shop I had ever seen. You could get everything you'd ever read in an Enid Blyton there. Marzipans, gingerbread, licorice, cheeses, marshmallows, jellybeans, asparagus, easter eggs- everything. And at the cake shop below: pastries, puffs, pies, minces, pizzas, tarts, eclairs, macaroons- and of course, those slurpily delicious Danish pastries. The counters were operated by a bevy of Tamil women, all equally surly, and if my grandmother was to be believed, "hired directly from Nimhans, I tell you." They looked straight through you, said "No" just on a whim, and in the unlikelihood of their taking mercy on you, made you acutely aware of how privileged you were to be getting something from them. Nevertheless, the crowds surged on through the '90s and midway through my college years. Nilgiri's cakes were, after all, the cheapest and loveliest to be found.

Upper Crust, the restaurant started by the Nilgiri's heir-apparent, did roaring business, especially with the college crowd. People from my college, strategically situated in the heart of the city, would be the first to bunk class and appear there for a quick bite (and sometimes a long drawn out date) before a movie. The cafe-restaurant was also the perfect place to meet after a long day at work. When they started serving Chettinad cuisine, our joy knew no bounds. Unfortunately, the cafe went into decline in the 2000s thanks to family feud, and closed down a couple of years ago. Die hard Nilgiri's buffs like me grew sadder as the stacked shelves in the bakery grew lighter and lighter with every passing year.

Last week, an enthusiastic classmate and I decided to organize a college reunion at the Nilgiri's cake shop. We felt it was the perfect place to renew old aquaintances, and perhaps bid fond farewell to our old favourite hang out. As we waked down the stairs to the basement cake shop, a pleasant oniony aroma hit us. It was the all-too-familiar smell of Nilgiri's baking. The cake shop under its new management had been given a face lift. There was air conditioning, modern furniture, elegant lighting and even a children's play area. Nilgiri's' slightly anachronistic trademark pastries and cakes stood proudly in their shelves once again. The surly staff now smiled waterily at the customers, as they laboriously keyed bills into their new cash machines. The food, in true Nilgiri's style, was cheap, pleasant and satisfying.

As for the reunion, the less said about being the only singleton among 10 ageing classmates - spouses and children in tow, the better.

Monday, April 21, 2008

There, there. It'll be all better soon.


Do you know what Bangalore's biggest problem is? It's the weather. We're spoilt brats. If the thermometer registers a 5 day blip of 2 degrees above normal, we think we're dying. When it rains for 45 minutes instead of 30, we go to pieces over it. When the winter's nice and chill, we cringe at the thought of how hot the summer could be. And then there are those memory trips that everybody goes on in April, the moment the mercury hits 35 degrees for 2 hours: "Nimgenri gothu Bengloor chali bagge! 20 varsha hinde Malleswaradal Shivrathri maLege badlu manju bilthaa ithu gothaa?" ("Whaat all you maadran peepals know I say. 20 years ago, the dosa batter at CTR would freeze saalid before hitting the tava even in midsummer. You fallow?") Has our weather really suffered such a dramatic change over the past 50 years or so?

Thankfully, it hasn't. We have.

Does anybody know which year Bangalore recorded its highest temperature (39 deg)? It was in 1931! While the met department agrees it was probably a freak occurrence, it also says that Bangalore's average summer temperatures have only gone up by a degree or so in the past 30 years. They seem unsure that it's a long lasting phenomenon, or if it is cause for real concern. But while the global picture is definitely cause for worry, can one measly degree cause this kind of mass weather hysteria among Bangaloreans today? I'm sure there's more to it. Here are my theories:

(e) Bangaloreans are incredibly paranoid about the weather. While we love bragging about it and smirking down at the sweltering plains below us, we're also the first to panic when it isn't significantly cooler than the rest of India at any given point of time. We need to be a good 8 degrees below Chennai, for example, to feel completely satisfied. Even the slightest rise in temperature makes us worry about losing our USP, and we hate that.
(n) Bangalore weather is always on the edge. Our clockwork weather pattern is worrisome. The balance between heat and rain is so delicate that we're convinced its going to go awry some day. If it doesn't rain and bring the mercury down exactly when it should, we immediately assume that the end has finally come, and run around in circles, moaning.
(o) We live in matchboxes that don't breathe naturally. The simple beat-the-heat measures like high roofs, red oxide floors, large verandahs and ventillators that our older buildings used, were excellent temperature control mechanisms.
(u) With modern conveniences at our disposal, we are willing to tolerate fewer and fewer weather eccentricities. We'd rather turn on our airconditioners at full blast, or flock into malls and theatres the moment we feel even slightly uncomfortable. We'd probably not feel this bad if we allowed our bodies to adjust to temperature changes gradually like the previous generation did, instead of confusing them by plunging in and out of supercooled zones every few hours.
(g) There's too much weather information going around. Heat related anxiety is particularly prevalent in Bangalore. We worry ourselves sick after reading the weather columns in the papers and watching the rest of the country swelter on tv, instead of facing our relatively milder summers calmly.

But since we are such a bunch of moaners, here are some simple tricks to keep cool for the next few days until the rains come:

(h) Don't forget to drink as much water as you can. Try and get used to drinking room temperature water, to help acclimatize your body to the ambient temperature.
(a) If you live on the top floor, sprinkle a bucket of water on your roof in the mornings and evenings. Makes a dramatic difference.
(l) Wear cotton. We are used to dressing up in Bangalore, because the weather normally allows us to. But for now, put your fancy numbers away. People are too exhausted to notice anyway.
(r) When you wash your face, wet the back of your neck, your ears and your inner arms. Helps you cool down dramatically.
(e) Cut out the sunlight with curtains or chiks (roll-down blinds) during the day. You could wet them too, if your home is sufficiently ventillated. Remember to roll them up at night though, or your rooms will get incredibly stuffy.
(a) Eat simple food. Rice, salads, juices, greens, yoghurt, fruits - you know, that sort of thing.
(d) Look around you and see where you can plant trees. Select spots that are likely to remain undisturbed for the next 30 years. You will never regret the small effort you took now, 10 years later. If you are not upto the task, call these people. They will do it for free.
(y) And most importantly, relax. It isn't so bad. Yet. Old Bangytown's clockwork rain usually kicks around the end of April and brings things back to normal. Until then, drink majjige and stay cool, but also think about what you can do to keep it in good ticking order.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Radio Ga Ga

They're everywhere. You can't escape them. Their incessant screaming seeps through your skull and messes with your brains. They gibber at you excitedly while you're at restaurants, malls and on your way to work. Their non-stop banter bounces off your eyeballs and lodges itself irretrievably in your psyche. Their ghoulish laughter rings in your ears hours after they've gone. They shriek in amusement as they watch you grow more and more dependent on their histrionics to tide you through your day.

What is most alarming, however, is that their numbers are swelling rapidly. The handful of RJs at Bangalore's solitary FM radio station in the early 2000s has now self-replicated to form a whole tribe of hysterical, airheaded babblers, chattering across 30 stations today. Unfortunately, I have never been able to catch a live specimen so far, to ask it the questions that I've always been dying to:

Are you sure you haven't been genetically altered? What do you have for breakfast before you let fly on the world like that? Do you sound like CDs on fast forward even when you're off work?
Will you ever have spouses? who aren't deaf-mute? Or children? How are those gonna work out if your spouses have permanent headaches from your incessant chattering? Ok I don't want to know the answer to the last one.

I must admit though, that there are a few chatterers that stand out from the maddening clamour. They gibber a little less, and make just a teeny bit more sense than the rest. This is my tribute to them. You kinda sorta make-ish my day, so, ummwell thanks.

Malavika (Radio Indigo): What! You lefta? Just like that! Why?? How can you do this to me, Bikerdude, your most adoring (and regretfully silent) fan? My mornings to work were made so much more bearable by the cheeriness of your happaladha-hittu voice. Your good humour and understated wit, especially when those obnoxious schoolkids called in and asked you to "playya song f'my muddher", were so charming. I will miss you I say. Come back! Wail!

Prithvi (Radio One): Boss, you're the man. Aha what a lovely RJ you are I say. I crown you the undisputed King of Kanglish. Your crazy humour and voice impressions are awesome. OK they're also slightly girly, but hey we like that. Oh and guy, could you ask your people to redo that jingle for your show? The one that has "Gooooood morning 'aa-Byengloora'" clunkily dubbed over the earlier 'Bangalore'? Apart from that, very good boss, congrats ok? ok.

Radha Thomas (Radio Indigo) : Sigh. When your deliciously husky voice hits the airwaves every Sunday, I stop wherever I am and listen intently. To the slightly run-of-the-mill but gorgeous jazz that you play with such coolness. Mid-middle full garagase Gayathri voice also. Aha, what a. Thank you for being born ma. Enjoy ok?

Rohit Barker (Radio Indigo) : Ahem, what can I say. You were awesome when you started, until you had that lobotomy a couple of years ago. Seriously boyo, what gives with the hysterical giggles and the brain dead jokes these days? We want the old Bright Barker back. We miss you(ish). Luckily the extra brain space seems to have been substituted with fairly good taste in music. And that Saturday thing you do with the gravelly voiced DJ whatsizname is really quite lovely, so great going!

Darius (Ex Radiocity): Well you're tough to ignore, aren't you. Taking some time off the air after all those death threats from the people you humilated during your call-in shows? Ah ok. Take, take.

Chaitanya Hegde (Ex radio city, now somewhere on a satellite): Putta, I can't say I dig your music, but your voice has a lovely reassuring tone to it that we all really like. So keep talking, but keep that finger off the play button, Ok? Ok bye.

Priya Ganapati (Ex Radiocity, now Mumbai, no?): Hai so nice. Full RJ ki Rani you were. Where you went off I say? And more importantly where did you take your awesome, awesome alter egos: Sister Stella and Lingo Leela? Boss! you guys used to make my day back then, with those slonguaze lessons and gogonut oil melodies for maaaladies. Come off back no, what is there?

Chamrajpet Charles and Prof. Ulfat Sultan (Radio One): Dude, you rock. Even a die-hard cantonment type like me can't get my dinglish to flow as smoothly as you do. 'Ow y'all manije so well I dunno men buggeh. Muss'be all dose quarters and bubba curries y'all eat hevery week, neh? What-tever you say baba, when I meet you I'll take off one xerox of your foot and hang it off on my wall only. Oi teri xerox ka taanga! Much love.

Sheetal Iyer and Vasanthi (Where are you these days ma?): Aiyo, sweeties you are I say. Sweetal and Pleasanty you can change off your names to, no? Nice job OK? Oaakay.

And finally, my all time favourites:
The nameless RJs on All India Radio (AIR) FM:
Dear saars and medams,

Kindly note that I am terribly in love with all of you. I am fascinated by your polished, measured tones, resultant of decades of practice in the dharna tent with an apricot seed in either cheek. I am highly entertained by your tinkly genteel laughter whenever any of your readers from Kaval Byrasandra sends in a joke. The detailed explanations provided after each joke are greatly appreciated by goldfish embryos, rock dwellers, politicians and waiters at Mocha.

Thanks to your intelligent discussions on various fascinating subjects during the Rajkumar favourites hour, my knowledge on piles, streptococcal infections and commercial chakkotha cultivation has advanced immensely.

I realize that you have approximately 88,743 hours of flute recitals in your archives, and am only too happy to listen to them incessantly, at the risk of going slightly mad at 7 every evening. I even approve of your long stoic silences between songs, when I assume you take your well-deserved tea breaks.

Live long and prosper, AIR, I love you. OK? OK.

As for the rest of you:
I'm not saying you aren't good. I'm not saying you are, either.

Friday, April 4, 2008

South Indian Wedding Etiquette

If you're anything like me (and I hope for your own good that you aren't), I'm sure you're fed up to the gills with all the irritating things people do at South Indian weddings. I have decided therefore to publish a "Lets call it like it is" pamphlet on South Indian wedding etiquette, so that all the fools who make them as unpleasant as they are, can mend their errant ways. I have to add here though, that this pamphlet does not apply to Malayalee weddings. For them, a visiting card with the words "Do not blink, or you'll miss the wedding" will suffice.

Bridal etiquette
(1) Smile, woman. We didn't drive all the way through the maddening traffic to see you look doped-out and weepy. If you're that glum you probably shouldn't be geting married. Go home.
(2) Brown is beautiful. Really. If we wanted to see pancake, we'd go to dosa camp.
(3) If you liked the black saree you saw at the shop, wear it at your wedding. Anyone who says black is taboo has been irreversibly brainwashed by Queen Victoria who's dead anyway.
(4) If you plan to be in bridal makeup 4 hours into the reception that you invited us to attend, either give us the address of your beauty parlour so we can drop by and murder you, or for God's sake allow us to eat and go home.

Groom etiquette
(1) Face it, you can't help looking silly in semi-drag with an umbrella over your head. Just go with the flow.
(2) You can smile reassuringly at the bride, and maybe at your friends. Not at all the pretty young things around.
(3) Do not give your friends a "thumbs up" before, after, or while tying the knot. We shudder to imagine what you're implying by it.
(4) If you're a Greencard/H1 groom, try not to talk much. A Banshankari II Stage accent with a West Virginia overlay cannot be taken seriously when you have kohl in your eyes and a fat black dot on your cheek.
(5) You're going to be half naked at the wedding. Please work out. We wholeheartedly agree that your flab is nobody's business but yours. Seriously fool, hit that treadmill and pump that iron. Your wife will love it, and we will too. Unless you plan on saving on lunch expenses by putting your guests off their food for the next month.
(6) We really don't care if you don't understand what the priest is asking you to say. Google everything later. Do not irritate us by asking the priest to explain every line. Lunch is waiting.

Older guest etiquette
(1) Don't swarm the stage during the mangal sutra ceremony. This is the only part of the ceremony anybody has even the slightest amount of interest in. We do not want to fling our rice at your ample posterior. If you're that keen on establishing your importance in the ceremony, hang a sign around your neck.
(2) If you're too feeble to climb up to the stage, cut the drama and sit tight in your seat. Spare us the agony of watching you painfully hobble up the steps to bless the couple, holding up the rest of the ceremony for interminable periods of time. Just let the bride and groom know that you wish to bless them and if they think you're important enough, they will come down to you.
(3) When your beady eye spies a young guest who seems 'perfect for your third cousin's second daughter', shut the hell up. Do not point, glare, whisper or pounce. These are people, not camels at the Pushkar bazaar.
(4) When you see two young people talking and feel the urge to make an entendre-filled remark, slap yourself and go wash your face. You're proving irrefutably that the only thing that's on your mind, always, is sex.
(5) Before coming to the wedding, sit down and think of things to talk about, that do not involve coupling or reproduction. We realize how hard that can be, considering this is all you have ever thought about during your adult life. Make the effort, it is time you evolved. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the number of young friends you'll make, who won't get up and leave the moment they see you coming.

Younger/single guest etiquette
(1) Listen, if you'd rather stay home and not go to the wedding, we understand. We know you have a life and can do with a little less of the marriage pressure, you poor thing. There, there.
(2) It is acceptable to walk away when old biddies with only sex on their minds ask you your age, height or salary. In fact it is increasingly becoming acceptable etiquette to reach out and slap their faces before walking away.
(3) Flirt, flirt, flirt as much as you can. A wedding is the only place you are officially allowed to. Remember to mentally undress the flirtee though. Think kerosene colour pant shirt, faded green salwar kameez, yellow overgrown nails, bajji-pakoda induced thunder thighs and radish breath on a Thursday evening. See if the flirtee is still worth it. And if an oversexed old biddy swoops in and tries to hook the two of you up while you're still deciding, show them your armpit.
(4) If you can't handle all the irritating people, the smoke and the noise, either skid off with your gang to the kitchen, or hole up at a nearby ice cream shop. Nobody cares, besides if someone wants to reach you, you can always ignore them when they call you on your cell.
(5) If you're NRI or ABCD, wipe that perpetually surprised, open-mouthed leer off your face. We don't get it. Try frowning when you're uncomfortable, or grinning from ear to ear when you're happy, like normal people do. That way, we'll atleast know what's up with you.

Parent etiquette
(1) You're allowed to look good. But remember, you are at your most endearing when you look hassled and disheveled. The guests will take pity on you and leave you alone. If you're all primped relaxed, they will assume you haven't done enough for them.
(2) Delegate, delegate, delegate. Or die.
(3) Honestly, all the wild goose chases the priests send you on, are rubbish. You are allowed to tell them to go fish if you can't do something with minimum effort.
(4) Do not usher people secretly into the dressing room and palm them off with a recycled blouse piece. If you don't have anything nice to give them, just grab their hands and say "ate aa?"
(5) Do not get the audience's hopes up by waggling your finger at the nadaswaram players and getting them to play the getti melam every 43 seconds. One pee-pee-dum-dum during the thali ceremony is enough. Nobody cares about the rest.
(6) Tell the cameraman not to moon the audience everytime he wants to get a closeup of the groom picking his nose, or the bride counting her toes for the 600th time. He's going to scrap all the footage and encase their mugshots in purple circling hearts anyway.

Eating etiquette
(1) Try and get to the dining room as early as possible, to avoid the feeding frenzy. It doesnt matter if the cooks sigh and grumble that you're early. It will save you and the hosts needless trauma if the diners are spread out through the day.
(2) If you're the host, please get a grip on the number of guests you'e expecting. Make extra food, and make prior arrangements for the left over food to be transported someplace where it will be appreciated.
(3) We like it when you fuss over your guests. Makes us feel less guilty about stuffing our faces while the world outside starves, because you're the ones forcing us to.
(4) Don't be pathetic and hover over your fellow guests to make them finish fast. Go home and eat if you're that desperate.
(5) If there's something you don't like about the food, shut up. This is a one-off thing and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Remember the starving millions outside your door.
(6) Remember to eat everything on your leaf. It is good manners to ask for only as much food as you need, instead of dramatically folding over a leaf full of uneaten food at the end of the meal. Oh and did anyone tell you that folding a used leaf over after a meal is, in fact, bad manners? Well then.

Dress etiquette - women
(1) If you're under 45, wear anything you want. Really, everything from a 9 yards saree to a strappy number looks great on you.
(2) If you're over 50, do not wear anything you want. Really, sarees look awesome on you.
(3) Try not to wear those rather bizarre duppattas around your waists and over your forearms, that tie your arms back all evening. They're pretty but we feel sorry for you and do not want you to be deformed for life on their account.
(4) Do not wear stilettos. Most people in South Indian weddings run around barefoot. Amputees are significantly lower in the marriage market.
(5) It is now acceptable etiquette to wear fluorescent blue hawaii chappals with elaborate kanjeevaram sarees. You'll need to take your footwear off everywhere anyway, so you may as well wear something that won't be stolen. Besides, if it's men you are aiming to attract by dressing up, you can rest assured they won't be noticing your footwear.

Dress etiquette - men
(1) Dude, dress down. Please. Those jigajiga brocadey kurtas only serve to accentuate your thair sadham features and make you look dorkier than you already are.
(2) Leave those filmy man-dupattas that you wear around your neck, at home. They are 5 minutes ago. I will personally come and blow my nose and wipe my sweaty face with them if you don't.
(3) Give those curly jooties to the poor. Even they will probably hit you with them if you do. Wear sensible stuff like chappals or floaters that you can take off and leave at the door without worrying about them.
(4) If you're in Chennai, do not gel your hair. Even if you are an NRI. The gel will trickle down your face and make you look like The Melting Man. If you're in Bangalore, you may gel your hair in the months of December and January. For the rest of the year you will look like Juggy Dee. Nobody will marry you.
(5) The bare chested look is over. Even if you're 68. Especially if you're from my family. We know exactly where all the puliyogare and and panchamritam goes. Spare us.

Alright, go now. And behave.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Robinson Clueless

“OK boys, time to pack up. We’re leaving”, announced the (then) youngish Mutter. We were going to relocate to a township in Andhra, to join Appa who had transferred there. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere but in dear old Trivandrum. I'd miss my lovely school, the paddy fields, the gurgling canals, the beautiful Kovalam beach, and the army of kids in my heptalingual colony so much! I kicked up a row, threw tantrums and refused to move. After a while, when I realized nobody was paying any attention, I gave up. Several farewell dinners, filled autograph books and walks around the neighbourhood later, it was time to leave for good.

The parents had done a recon expedition a few months before, to check things out before our actual move. The house was smallish but the garden was huge, they said. I would love the wild life, the migratory birds and school, they said. Ah well, I thought. If I couldn't cut it, I could always run back and live with the Guptas next door, where I could play with the kids all day and live in aloo-kachoried splendour for the rest of my life, I thought.

Our new home was located in a township carved out of a 50 sq km forested island. It was surrounded by the gigantic Pulicat lake on three sides and the Bay of Bengal on the east. The journey itself was quite spectacular. We travelled to Madras and drove 100km to a small town at the edge of the Pulicat Lake. Beyond it was 16 miles of nothing. Just a straight road across the lake's tidal bed. At the end of the road was the township. The road now entered a pair of formidable gates manned by tough looking CISF jawans. The jawans stiffened, saluted smartly and let us through. Coming from communist Kerala, where people wouldn't even give the Maharaja of Travancore the time of day, this was quite startling. In the three years that I lived there, I could never quite get used to it. I'd always cower in the back seat when the jawans jumped to attention as we passed them.

The housing colony was spic and span - and slightly neglected, in the way only a central government township can be. Our home, the first in a line of several identical quarters, had scrubby jungle on two sides, and overlooked the colony on the other two. Poker-straight roads criss-crossed the colony. It had a school, a hospital, a guest house and two modest shopping centers. All houses had been issued the same plants by the horticulture department: Chickoo, sitaphal, guava and pomegranate. Those, the horticulture dept had decided, were the only species that could survive the sandy soil and the harsh coastal heat. They were right. Inspite of our best efforts, nothing else did, except the odd jasmine and a couple of Allamanda and Moonbeam plants.

At the other end of the housing colony was school. Sprawled over a few acres, with small quadrangles between classrooms, it housed all the children of the township. Coming from a fairly progressive school in Trivandrum, the strange rules of this school took me quite by surprise. There was a drill for everything. Students marched out of class into assembly every day, listened to the principal and marched straight back into their classrooms. Girls and boys sat on either side of a wide aisle, across which they exchanged notes and the ocasional fleeting glance. The kids had hardly any interaction with the outside world, and had evolved a culture of their own. Even the language they spoke was a strange pidgin English, strung together in Telugu idiom:
"What ra rey, haircut naat doingaa? Bush like looking it is."
"Shettup ra. Your grandmother squirrel catching my son."

A second pair of security gates led from the housing colony to the scientific installations dotted across hundreds of hectares of jungle. The jungle itself was like nothing I had seen before. Short thorny shrubs covered a sandy forest bed. Jamoon and palymyrah trees poked out through the shrubbery, and exploded in a torrent of berries every autumn. The only sources of water for all the jungle's resident feral cows, jackals and birds, were large marshy ponds called vaagus, that served as oases in the otherwise unforgiving landscape.

Occasionally, we would spot a tribal dwelling - an igloo shaped hut that you needed to crawl to enter. The few tribal settlements that inhabited the island before the government took over, were left alone. The government offered to build them better houses, but the tribals refused, choosing instead to live in the same way that they had done for thousands of years.

The feral cows on the island were quite a phenomenon by themselves. They were probably brought into the island centuries ago by nomadic tribes, and left to fend for themselves after they moved away. Some of the residents of the colony had managed to tame a few cows into coming to their homes every evening. The cows would agree to be milked in exchange for the day's leftovers. After being fed and milked, they'd swish their tails and amble peacefully back into the jungle, only to come back to the same houses the next evening. Definitely the most symbiotic human-animal relationship I had ever seen!

We would sometimes drive through the jungle, out to the pristine beaches on the other side of the island : A 50km coastline untouched by habitation. It was odd to see the sun rise over the sea here, unlike in the west coast where we were used to seeing it dive into the sea in the evening. We would gather seashells by the bucketful and toss them back on the beach, not knowing what to do with them. Tortoises nested on the quiet beaches during the season: major happy times for the few tribal settlements by the sea.

The sea itself was rough and unbatheable. Cyclonic storms would ravage the coastline periodically, causing massive destruction to everything in their path. The housing colony was situated as far inland as possible to avoid being wrecked by them, though a massive cyclone in 1984 almost managed to wipe it out.

Every month or so, we would cross the Pulicat lake to get to the mainland for shopping, tuition classes, or just for a break from the monotony of the colony. The Pulicat lake, dry and lifeless during summer, would come to life after the rains in October. Thousands of migratory birds would fly in from places as far as Poland, to roost on the lake bed. Crossing the dreaded 16km 'road to nowhere' (as Mutter delicately put it) would now be a treat. Acres of pink plumed flamingoes would plod through the floodwaters, patiently dredging the lakebed for crill. Pelicans would flap around clumsily, their beaks filled with fish. Painted storks, dabchicks, spotted ducks, cormorants, pond herons, and a myriad other birds would descend in flocks all over the lake and cover it in a carpet of pinks, browns, yellows and blues. Truly a spectacular sight.

After three years on the beautiful island, it was time to move again. And this time, to the youngish Mutter's home turf, good old Bangytown! While we were on the island, we felt cloistered, cut-off, and deprived of company. When we moved though, it wasn't without a tinge of regret. It was a tranquil, calm and spectacularly beautiful existence, that taught us much. For one, it made me the compulsive tree-hugger that I am today. I got to experience first hand, what most others can only see on tv, or in a glossy Salim Ali bird book. My botanical knowledge quintupled in three years.

And even today, if I can rattle off scientific names at a 100kmph in a heavy Telugu accent, it is because of my three years on the beautiful island of Sriharikota.

*Cartoon: Yentraa babu is the Telugu equivalent of 'What's up dude'.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Chronic Deccan

"Kanna, epdi irke maaa? We miss you da love-raj", cooed the old mutter embarrassingly into the phone, a day after I'd gone missing. "Um harumph, fine." I growled back. I was afraid the airtel man who was secretly listening into our conversation, would cut in and say "Ha ha! Momma's boy!" and hang up. Luckily no such thing happened. After several reassuring coos from the old mutter and a pleasant chat on the current socio-economic situation in south east asia with the old pater, I hung up a happy man. I had run away to Poona because I needed to get de-bangalored for a bit. Besides, there wasn't much happening at work, and everyone I knew in Poona (ie, 1 sainted cousin and 1 long suffering friend) was in town.

Poona in a word, is lovely. Poona in three words is hot and dusty, but word 1 more than compensates for the other three. Lovely food, charming old-worldlines, lots of space, a fairly pleasant nightlife, and plenty of sights to see. The cousin watered, fed and whisked me around town with characteristic cousinly efficiency. The friend stuffed me silly with amti, srikhand puri, and every other imaginable maratha viand until I screamed for mercy . Ok I didn't. I just ate and ate until he ran out of supplies, and then he screamed for mercy.

The non-eating moments in Poona (and they really were only moments), were spent reading a book by the nullah-side, walking through the charming lanes of Tulshibag and Sadashivpet, gawking at the enormous mansions in Koregaon Park, trekking up and down the wooded tekdis in the centre of town, and making plans for the next meal. All in all, a wonderful time. Thanks muchly, o sainted cousin and long-suffering friend.

Back in Bangalore, I took one look at the traffic outside the airport, and almost caught the next flight back to lovely dusty amchi Pune. My dismay was short-lived thankfully, as my auto driver managed to slither through the traffic bottleneck like an oiled cobra.

A blast of cool air hit me as as the auto turned into airport road. I looked out and noticed it was drizzling. Gentle winds were blowing everywhere. The people in the jam were smiling. I was puzzled. What happened to the uncomfortably warm city that I had left barely a week ago?

And then I remembered: The Mango Showers had arrived.

"Ahh", I sighed. Right on time. My favourite season in Bangalore. When the skies explode, wash the streets clean, turn trees green overnight, inspire poetry and make everyone smirk about how lucky they are to live here.

And now, while the rest of the subcontinent slowly begins to bake, all you "vods so great aboud this waather yaar" types can call your relatives in your sizzling hometowns, and tell them what they're missing: Cool, moist evening breezes blowing up your.. err street. Boiled peanuts at Lalbagh on a wet March evening. A half masale sweet after an April shower. Shetty's nippat masala followed by a drizzly open air concert at the Palace Grounds in May.

Do not encourage them to move here. It is enough if they know.
And if the voice on the other end of the line says "Yes da raja, I knnnowww maa. Its reeeelly luvleee, no?", please hang up instantly. I want you to contact your relatives, not mine.