Monday, January 28, 2008

A lazy afternoon at Cubbon Park

I had a Wordsworth moment the other day.

It was a warm, sleepy Bangalore afternoon at Cubbon Park. I was on a lunch break from work. Everybody in the park was happy, mellow and relaxed. Even the icy expression on Aunty Victoria's statue seemed to have thawed a bit in the afternoon breeze.

The sunlight filtering through the treetops made beautiful dappled patterns on the duck pond. It reflected off the oiled heads of a lone couple under a sprawling banyan, and brought the bald pate of a man asleep on a bench, into dramatic focus. A bunch of burqa clad women were busy picking fallen leaves out of their lunch boxes as they sat in a circle, giggling.

The fountain played lazily. Pan-chewing women gardeners picked weeds insouciantly off a mound of of flowering marigolds, salvias and dwarf zinnias around the statue of the Wodeyar. The ornate lion benches bearing the royal emblem had been given a fresh coat of paint. The Vidhana Soudha and it's new found twin loomed up majestically behind a copse of fading pink Tabebuias near the Central Library.

As I turned into the library, I caught something out of the corner of my eye and turned. Nothing quite prepared me for what I was about to see. An ocean of roses. An acre of them at least. Of every colour and shape. Some as big as two palms cupped together. All in bloom, all at once.

I spotted the old favourites that my grandmother had taught me to name: The baby-pink Eterna, the lavender Whiskey, the delightfully fragrant yellow-and-red Double Delight, the blood red Prince Edward. And hundreds of nameless but astoundingly beautiful others. All set off perfectly by the brick red and granite facade of the library. Absolutely breathtaking.

Yup. We're still the garden city alright. Except we've almost forgotten what to do about it.

PS: If you want to see the rose garden live and in full bloom, go NOW. The rose bushes are specially pruned back every winter to get them to bloom all at once, during republic day. Another week more and you might not see as many. Speak nicely to the cross looking caretaker and she'll let you climb over the fence to take close up shots.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fifteen day fever (or five day fever - part mooru, with picharsu)

The initial furore over the underpass has died down. The underpass now draws regulars, who visit it every day and check on its progress. The BMP commissioner, anxious to save his name and ancestral familial reputation, has camped permanently on the construction site and swears to leave only after it is complete.

A small representation of the genteel crowds of Malleswaram and Sadashivnagar greeted him yesterday to provide genteel words of encouragement. The commissioner smiled, pinched babies' cheeks where available and said: "With the support of people like you, I am not worried." The small representation returned home happy and reassured.

The delinquent bulldozer has been pressed back into service and now chomps up clods of earth in a quiet, compliant manner. The crane has accepted the bulldozer's apology for any harrassment caused and all is well in underpassland.

Except, with two days to go for the extended completion deadline, the magic box underpass looks like this.

But hey, whats the hurry. We don't have an elevated rail to catch, do we.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Five day fever.. continued

"They're doing it! They're really doing it!! Come NOW!!"
A ruptured tympanum prevented me from partaking of the rest of C's excitement on the phone. So without further ado, the Old Mutter and I headed off in the dead of night, to where all the action was.

Cauvery Circle: the site of the first ever instant underpass in India.

Yes, really. They're using Malaysian technology to assemble pre-cast blocks together quickly to create an underpass overnight.

The construction site was like a village fair. Nobody had seen anything like this before. The genteel crowds of Malleswaram and Sadashivnagar were peering cautiously over the debris, as bulldozers gouged out the underpass under their very eyes. It was actually happening.

"Cool huh?" I screamed across the void at C, whose entire extended family had turned up to watch the construction.

"Super cool boss!" the extended family shouted back in chorus, and ran away screaming, as a bulldozer suddenly came to life and chased them down the road.

"Ha ha", the Old Mutter and I laughed from our side. Our mirth was short lived, as we suddenly found ourself knee-deep in mud from a truck that had decided to unload where we stood.

"Hoon mathe"(then what), said a surly policeman watching the entire scene with the glazed look of one that has eaten mudde-saaru for dinner. "Theppakke maneyal bidkond Mukta nodak badlu, il band tarle madidre innen aguthe.Yaae HOG-ri aakade. Idhen nim thathan swoththaa?" (Serves you right for coming here and mucking around instead of watching Oprah. Aay GO that side I say. This is your grandfather's ancestral property or what.)

Suitably apologetic, we extricated ourselves and retreated to a corner. I rang C on his cell to find out if he was ok. "Yes!!!", he hollered into my surviving ear. The bulldozer had apparently lost interest in his family, after they had all clambered onto a large rain tree. It waved its claw creepily at them and went off in another direction, he said. The view from the tree was great, but cousin #12 needed to pee, he said.

I was okay too, I said. The Old Mutter was a little miffed about her mithai pink and fluorescent green polyester duppatta getting muddied, but would survive, I said.

Both of us stopped in mid paragraph however, when we noticed something very strange indeed.
The underpass seemed to be in the wrong place! Wasn't it supposed to cut across the main road, instead of plunging in and out of the side road??!!

"Oh No!!" we both screamed, scaring an accountant's family off a Tabebuia. "Stop this madness instantly!" we shouted, waving frantically at the man in charge: a hirsute, pot-bellied gent, clad rather fetchingly in a tattered blue lungi.

"I shall do no such thing", said the lungiman calmly.

"But the underpass is supposed to Pass Under the intersection, remember?" we gasped.

"There are water pipes are under the intersection. Your father will move them or what?"

"Bu...but how will it work then?" we blubbered.

"Wait a minute for five minute", he said, and pulled out a crumpled envelope from a region I'd rather not remember. "In this master plan document", he explained, "you will see how this underpass system will work." On the back of the crumpled envelope, next to a hastily scribbled mobile number and a grocery list, was indeed the master plan.

To avoid the waterpipes on the main road, the underpass would start and end on the side road.
Traffic from the side road towards the main road would now flow under the underpass, but re-emerge on the side road, crossing the intersection above ground.

"But how on earth is that going to help?" we asked.

"Ah", said Lungiman. And drew a little squiggle on the master plan.

All the traffic from the main road would be made to swerve into the side road, take a U-Turn above the underpass and swerve back into the main road.

The lungiman said he arrived at this gem of a design (surpassing even that of the Richmond Circle flyover), after reading a Tinkle comic containing a story of Mullah Nasruddin. In the story, the wise Mullah went searching for his lost ring under a streetlamp where the light was brighter, even though he had lost it elsewhere.

Sheer Genius.

BMP, we love you. No, really.

Epilogue: A day after this post was written, the ornery bulldozer ploughed into a water pipe that the BWSSB (Bangalore Water and Sewage Supply Board) claimed no knowledge of. The burst water pipe is going to be converted into a musical dancing fountain which will spray "Car car yel nodu car" at the gridlocked traffic in the U-turn. The bulldozer, suspended from duties after trying to eve-tease the crane-lift, is currently undergoing anger management and repression therapy at NIMHANS (National Institute for Mad Hatters, Axe-murderers, Non-cooperative-bulldozers and Stuff).

The BMP commissioner says sorry and has urged the genteel crowds of Malleswaram and Sadashivnagar to kindly adjust and oblige.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Half century!

Have a fab Pongal/Sankranti, y'all!

And this, my dears, is my 50th post.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Move over, Mother Goose!

My family has always been big on poetry. Proof of this fact lies in the lyrical beauty of the doggerels that have been passed down over generations from father to daughter, mother to son, driver to ex-gardener... and finally down to me.

I have therefore decided to preserve the following family heirlooms in a stainless steel tiffin box filled with liquid Nitrogen. The tiffin box will then be jettisoned into outer space, as a complete representation of modern civilization on earth.
Move over, Mother Goose.
(Refer Glossary below for word meanings)

One ara two ara dikkara dun
Aval kaaval must be done
KaLLan KuLLan twenty one
Ah, you may bluqq.
(Tanglish + Gibberish:
A one, a two, a dikk and a dunn
Waiting watching must be done
Robber, shorty 21
Ah, you may bluqq
(gesture slicing throat with tongue out))

Son who temple salt flour needle gone
( Pun on Pillaiyaar koil Upma oosi pochu (Tamil)
=The upma in the Ganesha temple went bad)

Leaf lotus Only one pearl umbrella
(Pun on Yele kamala onde ondu muthu kodey (Kannada)
=Hey Kamala give us a kiss)

Bambai ku jaana
Daarili obba koothidha
Ra, ra ani chepthe
Vardhille ant chonna
What shall I do?
Pig Hindi: When I went to Bombay
Kannada: A man was on the road
Pig Telugu: I told him "come, come with me"
Pig Tamil: He said, "No I won't"
English: What shall I do?)

Once I went to Vellayani *
There I saw a Kalyani
Sitting on a Mullani*
Eating Bombay Biriyani

Once I went to a Chinese Shop
There I saw a chinese lady
This what she said to me:
"Aye aye chick-a-dye
Um pum poori
Out goes you
And that is you."

I and Mary

Went for a waak
Mary fell

And tore her fraak

Appushasthri and Kuppushastry
Went to Kalahasthri
There they saw a
Kuppai thotti mesthri*
They took him to aspathri*
And put plasthri*

Brandy ni thraagithe
Brahmandamga untaru
Whisky ni thraagithe
Vishwa roopam choosthaaru
Saaraayi thraagithe
Swarga lokam pothaaru.
If you drink brandy
You'll be fantastic
If you drink Whisky
You'll see the real you
If you drink toddy
You'll go straight to heaven)

Mottai mottai molagu saar
Kambli mottai dei Kumar!
Baldy baldy pepper sir,
blanket baldy hey Kumar!)
Perhaps Tamilized version of the Hindi:
Motey, motey, maalguzaar
Gamley motey de kumhar
(Fatty fatty landlord man,
Give you fat pots, the potter can.))

It adhu but aadre
What yenu??
(Kanglish:Translations inbuilt)

I naan, me naan
Thou nee, you nee
He 'van, she 'vaL
It adhu they 'vargal

(Tanglish: Translations inbuilt)

Karuppu naayikki
(wah wah huzzoor, karuppu naayikki?)

Haan. Karrupu naayikki - vaal illeyyy
(mashallah! maar hi dalogey)
Karuppu. Naayikki. Vaal Illeyy...
Kaapi thaNNikki paal Illey.
(Waaaah wah wah wah)
(Tamil, in imitation of a mushaira:
The black dog has no tail
The black coffee has no milk)

Other contributions welcome. Nitrogen is expensive, and we have a whole stainless steel dabba to fill. Quick!
Vellayani = a place in Kerala
mullani = foal
kuppai thotti mesthri = garbage collector
aspathri = hospital
plasthri = plaster

Friday, January 4, 2008

Get up the goose!

"Yaendhukka da, pasangala!.
Get up the goose!
Get up the goose!
Madras vandhaaaaach!!"

My brother and I would clamber out of the upper berth and look sleepily out of the train window at the inky black night outside.
"Where, pa?" we'd ask him.
"Another hour", he'd announce cheerfully.

Appa is never last minute. He wouldn't let us be last minute either. Everything had to be prepared for, hours and sometimes days beforehand. If you were travelling, you had to call the station the previous night to make sure it was still standing. If your train left at 6, he'd shoo you off to the station at 3. You'd also need to call the station at 20 minute intervals all day to make sure the train was on time. And if you had to get off a train, you needed to be all packed and near the door at least an hour before your stop. Even if it was the last one. The perfect father for a head-in-the-clouds son like.. err my brother.

So, within minutes of getting up the goose (nobody except Appa knew what that meant), our bedrolls and suitcases would be packed and ready. Amma would be up and combing her hair out. Other passengers would stir grumpily in their sleep as Appa turned on lights and opened windows. My brother and I would be squashed up by the window under a towel. The soporific whirring of the train fans would make us drift in and out of sleep, as the sky slowly lightened outside.

The closer we got to Madras, the slower the train would crawl. Tired perhaps, after the 18 hour run from Trivandrum.

Our immediate surroundings would undergo several miraculous transformations overnight. For one, there was no "Chaaya chaayeyyyy" anymore - just "Kaapi kaapeeeeyum". Station names in the comforting Malayalam jalebi-script now looked noodly and recti-linear, written in Tamil. The passengers who chatted non-stop in Malayalam until Coimbatore, would now speak in heavily accented Tamil. We were nearing Madiraashi after all :

"Ende berthle neriya bet-becks irundhadhakkum. Urakkame varalai " (Lots of bedbugs in my berth. Just couldnt sleep.)

But most strangely, a peculiar scent would waft in through the windows of the compartment. As the train crawled slowly on, it would intensify from a mildly unpleasant odour into an all-enveloping, mind numbing stench. "Ahhh.." my father would sigh in pleasure, inhaling deeply. For if there is one true sign that heralds the arrival of Chennai, it is the magnificently overpowering sulphurous pong of the Basin Bridge station. A heady mixture of rotten eggs, chemicals, sewage, fish, sea and ripe guava.

"Madras waasne", my mother, the Bangalore girl would say, and smile affectionately at Appa.
"Aama, illai? Gubbbbu. Ackack. Na-na", he'd say to us, forgetting that his children were now capable of coherent articulate sentences.
"Hngello, hngello, hngow aagre you?" "Fngine Thngank you.", my brother and I would chant, holding our noses.

Appa's sundakkai-vendakkai "Tamil dictation" lessons had not really prepared us for real world Tamil. We could read the script haltingly, but couldnt make any sense out of anything we read.
"Ka-zhi-ip-pi-da-im", we'd chant, stringing the Tamil letters together painstakingly, from the signs we read.
"Pa, pa, what does it mean?" we'd ask him excitedly.
"It means... kakkoosu", Appa would say, with a wink to our shocked mother.
"Cheeeeeeeeeee" we'd scream in chorus, and read the next sign.
"Pae-ch-in Pi-ri-t-j" (Basin Bridge) "Pa, see, see, spelling mistake." we'd say excitedly.
"No." My father would reply. "Appadi thaan ezhuthanum." (thats how you write it), and proceed to explain how the difference between "pa" and "ba", "sa" and "cha" in written Tamil is contextual.
"But whyyyyyyy?" we'd persist.
"Becaaaaaa....use", and after a dramatic pause: " day, Appushastry and Kuppushastry went to Kalahasthri. There they met a kuppai thotti mesthri...."
The peals of laughter that followed would put an end to any further exploraitons into the matter.

Madras Central would loom up at us through the deep indigo of early dawn. But as the old Tamil saying goes: "Before you see the elephant, you can hear its bells". The odours of Madras Central would waft into the compartment about 42 seconds before the train pulled in. Karuvade (dried fish) in gunny sacks all along the platform were the culprits this time. Smelling karuvade for the first time is like exactly like being smacked hard on the face by Hemalatha Miss for hashing an exam. It's that physical.

After the initial shock, my brother and I would look around Central Station in wonder. It was the biggest station we had ever seen. The tracks actually stopped inside station and trains parked there overnight. The roof soared high, high above us. Big posters loomed up everywhere. Announcements in a strange Tamil that that nobody spoke in real life, would pipe up from nowhere.
"... onpathu mani pathinainthu nimidathirkku purappattu chellum..."
"Wha...? Pa, pa, what's she saying?"
"She is saying, nee romba asadu, naan unna udanna vandhu odhaikkaporaen" (She's saying youre very naughty and I am instantly coming to beat you up)"

Straight ahead, G chittappa would be waiting for us near Higginbothams, smiling his G chittappa smile. We'd run across the platform, jumping over sleeping passengers, side-stepping trolleys, gunny sacks, surly porters and paper-sellers and latch ourselves onto him. After an hour's journey through the big, beautiful, sweltering city of Madras, with the widest roads I'd ever seen, we'd be in Thatha's house...

...where Pati's fragrant rasam, an army of cousins, A. chitti's godrej almirah full of Archie comics, and a whole month of fun awaited us.