Sunday, March 28, 2010

If I Were to Write on Bangalore

The spirit of the city? What ever does it mean to capture that, I wonder? Maybe its like modern art. I don’t understand, or care much, for modern art. If that should make me aesthetically whatever, so be it. So this spirit of a city is another of those things I fail to understand.

What defines a city, apart from the fact that it is one? The weather, the expanse of its limits, the language/s spoken, now, those are geographical and/or cultural geographic factors. You can’t possibly call its people the spirit of a place they live in, can you? Won’t it then become subjective? I mean, as a migrant, Bangalore means different to me; my idea of the place and its history is far from what a person having lived here all his life might have. When you examine the variants of the idea of a place, factor in the lifestyle, the income level, the personal histories, if I may be so presumptuous, the ethnicity of the people, the place where you live, work and socialize. Many factors that might determine your response to the demands of the city, to the situations that life in a one way lane might throw up.

Within the precincts of these factors and the inevitable, unpredictable quirks of individual behaviour, how can you search for a collective spirit that, so to speak, could “define” Bangalore? I really don’t see the point of even attempting such an exercise.

But back to the spirit of Bangalore, rather, an attempt at working my ideas around that. Its been four years now since I moved to Bangalore. After the first six months here, I was already planning my exit, then I had hoped that it would be to Madras. I was very happy to be persuaded otherwise then. Four years later, that naughty impulse that sniggers in me once a while is thinking Madras again, the things that a break make you think! (For reasons or not, see the post below)

Four years now, also thanks to the profession I chose to put myself in, I can claim to “know” the city. Not that I like it much at all; I often say, there is in me a natural tendency to dislike the very concept of a city, any city. But I love the people, again not as a whole, just several that I have met and loved, and continued to love. Try as I might, I cannot fathom the spirit of the place though, getting back to that topic.

If I were to write about Bangalore, I am not sure what I would want to write about. Most surely not the clich├ęd to death IT hub part, maybe not the Basavanagudi, Malleswaram types either with the neighbourhood Brahmin families, dipped in generous sepia tones and turned over with nuances of nostalgia.

Nostalgia is the cushion people rest their elbows on when life gets on their nerves. A fellow blogger wrote this a long time ago. Isn’t relevant here, but I just had to write this.

Bangalore to me is the way I think New York would be. I have never been to NY, though I am dying to go there once in my lifetime. I guess that wish is the hangover of the image of the Big Apple in movies and books. I say Bangalore is akin to NY because of how much of a melting pot it has become. I cannot ignore mentioning the IT boom for this. And the weather, better than any other metro in the country, without argument. The migrant population is bigger than the true Bangaloreans, if you choose to call them that. As it is, there are more people speaking other languages than Kannada. The minority that Kannadigas are in, even these are largely from towns other than Bangalore. Like me. The new urban nomads.

If there was one thing that I would say defines this city, it would be how welcoming it is to people. Eavesdrop into any conversation among a bunch of young things in, wherever in the city, you will hear English. Or possibly, Hindi, which is the new English these days. Miles away from their home towns, these would be from the most far flung states and towns. When I think back on my bunch of colleagues in the old office, we had people from Bengal, the North East, Kerala, Gujarat, well nearly all the states and most major areas of Karnataka. That is Bangalore to me.

Sure, there are still the jacarandas, the lovely yellow hues in the parks and all the fading beauties of the once calm, unhurried town. But of course, it is more of the people now. Bangalore is also of the things that are disappearing, all those gems that are falling into the claws of the modern, the nouveau. Plaza talkies, demolished. Coffee House, shifted. Premier book stores, closed. The M G Road boulevard, torn down. Many others that I, as a non-witness to the city’s stories, wouldn’t know of.

If I were to write of the city, it would be of the arrogant neglect of its own history, the way Bangalore is shrugging its past frantically, the embrace of the future without at all dwelling on its necessary present. Only that future which is fired at from the shoulder of the past can be a future that will be mindful to the present as well.

My story of Bangalore would be of this. Of the people, for, no story can speak for itself without mouthing it through the experiences of people. Of the people who made Bangalore, the ones who joined the ranks much later, the melting of all cultures, peoples, ethics and ethnics. But not the “spirit” as such.

I still do not understand what “is” Bangalore. To me, it would be superfluous to simplify the myriad value systems, the factors that make a people into a collective quality and smugly market it as “that thing” that defines the city I live in. In a world of individuals and separate islands, it would be but a futile attempt to quantify the differences and give it one prosaic tag. No, as far as I would be considered, there isn’t one “spirit” to the city or its people. Bangalore is a wonderful place with great people, with many kindred spirits. For once, lets keep it simple and let it be that way.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Madras Musings--- A Fixation

This morning’s fixation was Madras. No, I refuse to call it Chennai. And no again, I don’t quite know why I hit upon Madras; I have long given up trying to make sense or create logic for my sudden fixations such as these.

So Madras it was, for some reason. That got me thinking of my Madras memories, two years I remember so vividly, some of the best days of my life, an eternity ago. And then I thought, why not move to Madras for a bit? Yes, like I said, I don’t make sense to me sometimes either. I mean, I don’t have a job waiting for me there, I don’t know very many people there, I hate the sticky coastal weather (though it does wonders for my skin) and the summers are the stuff of legends. Plus, beaches I like, but couldn’t care much for, given my other permanent fixation for mountains.

Yet, part of the fixation of this morning was about the moving part. It just popped up like one of those silly eureka moments you get when you are bored and then there is a thought that you play around in the mind, just for utter time pass. And I made up a list of why and why not I should move there.

So, if I were to reject the place, it would be first for the weather, undoubtedly. Though I must say, once you get past that crazy, mind numbing heat in the summer, the coastal weather is actually nice. Yes, call me crazy, you ought to have known by now that I can be that!! Maybe I would have a problem with the language too. Well, I speak Tamil fluently but I don’t know, maybe I would hate not hearing Kannada on the streets. Come to think of it, you don’t get to hear Kannada on the streets of Bangalore either!

From the time that we lived there though, its so much better. Nearly two decades ago, it was impossible to get directions or ask anything if you didn’t know Tamil and we were all forced to learn it. Versus that, in Bangalore, you can live all your life without understanding a word of Kannada. I know people born and brought up here who are that way; bad, bad, bad. Madras is better now, the last time I was there, I heard more English being spoken.

Why else would I hate it? Well, it’s a city, and as a rule I choose to hate cities. Now we have the weather, the language issue. I can’s say much about the people, I don’t know that many there. The maamis with Kanjeevarams and lots of gold--- I don’t have a reason to dislike that though, just thought of them and put it out.

Oh I forget, it is a little too far from home. Bangalore that way is just 5 hours away. Plus, too many people that I love to death are in Bangalore/Karnataka. I am also told the auto drivers are atrocious there. Considering how I want to line up all auto drivers in Bangalore and shoot them, that would be a big, big, huge problem. Buses were good, I am not sure how they are now.

As to why I would move, it would first be for palm sugar chocolate! I am not a choco-fan, but there was this one little place in Parry’s Corner, one of those government co-operative ones, where you would get palm sugar chocolate, the yummiest chocolate I have ever had in my life. I have never had the time to look for it in the years past, but one day, I will track that place down, if it exists. I have to repeat, the most yummiest chocolates ever!!!

Then I love some parts of the city, the Adyar, Besant Nagar areas. When going to school on the back of the best friend Vani’s cycle, I would gape at all the wonderful houses, flanked by tall trees in quiet neighbourhoods, wide roads, a soft breeze. My most favourite house, one where the entrance to the house was at the end of a flight of stairs, was still around the last time I checked. I love the neighbourhood, the whole area. Or maybe it has more to do with the memories I attach to them.

The beach! I am surely not a beach person; you hear me going on and on, and on, about mountains all the time. But considering I don’t live anywhere close to real mountains anyways, beaches wouldn’t be too bad a second option. I love the memory of me and ma talking long walks along Elliot’s Beach every evening. A house close to the beach, now who wouldn’t want one of those?

The temple jewelry is so absolutely amazing! But then, I couldn’t afford them anyways. That brings me to Marghazi maasa, the month long music season. I am not much of a connoisseur of classic Carnatic music, but I like the idea of a music season which is so written about. There is also the Kalakshetra; we used to live close to that place.

Then there is the slower pace of life as compared to Bangalore. But then, all cities are like that, busy places, so I can’t complain. I also love the old heritage buildings and again, the wide roads. Traffic is becoming almost just as bad though. The cinema is better there, music better. On a lighter vein, I might bump into Surya or Madhavan, the two cutest actors in the South!! LOL!

More than it all, the very idea of going to an unfamiliar place, starting a life again and discovering its streets, its hidden gems, getting to know the best restaurants, the hang outs, the history to its little corners, the newer stories there, newer people, newer memories to add to the bundle of the old ones that are now loosely tied together with fading faces, disappearing voices and closing once-familiar places: now that is the romantic idea that appeals the most, the reason why I would ever consider moving.

But then, I am not likely to do so. Madras is my land of memories. Apart from those, I am not sure there would be a life waiting there. As for now, well, Karnataka is home, I have my everything here, life, love, work, family, friends. I have me here. How can I move? Madras is far, far away.

There wasn’t really any point to this post, sorry! Just a morning fixation that kept my head working all day. I was really just repeating my thoughts of the day. Madras musings.

The fixation is still on. But I have dealt with it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

That Piece of the Ocean

A little shell
That breathes the air above
The ocean
Whispers of the waves,
The ebb and high tides
Little notes, high and low
In shades varied
Spikes and twirls
From a million waves
Washed over

That bit of shell
Brown and white, a little pink
I press into my palm
That piece of the ocean
I hold close to me.

What Film Stars Have To Do With My Age

Pics from the internet
I never expected me to like Surya, that great looking Tamil actor. Especially not in a movie like Kaaka-Kaaka, that famous cop movie, where he looks like this very typical South Indian man, moustache and everything. But like? Oh boy! I loved him in that movie! Not his otherwise chocolate boy-meets-muscle man look, but the one in the movie, I-am-a-cop-serious-oh-so-tough kind of look. I loved his eyes, especially. Plus he is in uniform. What is it about uniforms that make a guy all the more delectable I wonder?

(The other day, we girls in the office were mooning over how yummy uniforms make a guy and from across, a friend tells us, why not look at the security guards outside? They are in uniform too! Right! But, never mind, it’s a girl thing!)

The movie is great, by the way, though I don’t like the ending. If you ask me, commercial films should not have sad endings. After all, you watch them for mindless entertainment, my logic being that since real life can never be a happily-ever-after, such movies have to have a nice ending.

Jyothika and Surya, also a real life couple, make an excellent pair. And I have to say this again, I fell in love with him in the movie! He makes cops look so glamorous. That brings me to them, the police are so much like journalists, they go through the same drudgery, working on Sundays and all festivals and holidays, at all odd hours, when the rest of the world is living a life. They, I feel, like journalists, are one of the most unacknowledged community of people. I am sure, like in every field, there are the bad guys, the good guys. The very little I know of them, they are not that bad, you know.

I digress, as always. Surya is apparently 43 years old. The big 40 plus. Shah Rukh Khan is over 40, so is Aamir Khan, so is Akshay Kumar. And Tom Cruise. And Milind Soman, how can I not mention him! And a host of all the others that I have liked over the years. They are all over 40, all have been in the public gaze for nearly 20 years now. Now that is what puts my life and age in perspective.

Aamir started with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak when I was a little girl. I remember seeing Shah Rukh in Fauji and then Circus, that delightful series on life in a circus. Akshay’s pelvic gyrating moves in Main Khiladi Tu Anari…all that seems so long ago. Yesterday, I was going through my music list and chanced upon songs from Saajan. That film was made in 1991! That’s close to 20 years ago! Madhuri Dixit is over 40, Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan are nearing 50!

When I see the ages of film stars and other people in public in the papers, there is this awareness of how life goes by, and you scantly notice it. People you have grown up having crushes on, those that started their careers when you were a kid, they are the veterans now. There is a new brigade that you cannot really identify with, pretty little things and just out of teens, the Ranbir Kapoor kinds, or the others I don’t know the names of.

Back in my teens I used to think that I would never outgrow certain things, junk jewelry, boy bands, a search for the coolness factor in everything, buying cassettes (then) of all the latest movies, or crushes on Leonardo DiCaprio. Before we know it, we grow up and grow out to be more mature, sophisticated, preferring silver jewellery, chiffons and handlooms, leaving boys for men. Back then, we seem invincible, the world is our oyster. I guess it still is.

No, I am not suddenly feeling old and outdated, though when I see the interns who walk into the office (old office, I keep forgetting), more tech savvy, speaking slang, carrying fashion along, we all do feel a tad outdated. Just that, seeing Surya and many others were above 40 got me thinking that I have spent over 20 years of being aware of actors and having crushes on them. That’s a long time.

It is strange how you never really acknowledge your age, yet there is, in the subconscious, a knowledge that people you grew up seeing are growing old, that the youth you knew are now middle-aged, that 40 does not seem that far away, that old as it used to. It is almost like you are standstill, just the world is moving ahead.

Call it another form of escapism. Age is, of course, how old you think you are and all those nice things. Or not.

I watch Kaaka-Kaaka as I write this. How can I not say this again, that I love Surya! And Milind Soman, someone I have had a crush on for probably the last 20 years. Now that’s a long, long time.

We all grow up, and older.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Farewell, My Love

Sometime in the year 2001, in one of the dozens of things I found myself reading those days, I came across a line. I don’t quite recollect if it was a report or an article now. It was about the Afghanistan war; an incident where a woman was found plucking weeds from the inner sides of a drain. When questioned, she said that it was for her family to eat! Now, I can no longer vouch for the authenticity of this, considering how little I remember of the rest of it. But I think it was as I read of that incident that I first knew I wanted to be a journalist, to write such stories, to tell the world what was wrong with it.

From then, till now, it has been a wonderful journey. Journalism has remained my first love, it shall always be so. And when the passion still flickers, I say goodbye to a profession that has given me some of my closest friends, some of my most treasured memories and definitely the drive to follow my dreams.

I still remember my resident editor calling to tell me I had got my first job at Indian Express. Perhaps nothing is as exciting as your first job. The Express experience, as I know most people who have worked there will vouch, is quite something. Someday, in the book that is sitting in the back of my head, I will write about it. From the bad coffee to the shared computers to no internet to the absolutely great team to all the lovely lovely times, Express was the place I am so happy I started my career with, the place where I perhaps wrote some articles with the most passion.

I completed two years at Times of India on March 10. Two years that have been the one with the most changes in my life, personal and professional. It has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride, and, except for a few things on the personal side, I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way. Two years of so many kinds of people, work and experiences.

This was where I made some exciting trips. This was where I perhaps became more ‘me’. Rather, this was perhaps where the ‘me’ as an individual, as a writer was polished, where I learnt what I wanted, where I made friends. The friends, how I shall miss them. Nearly four years ago, I had promised myself that I would limit my friends among the journo fraternity, for reasons I don’t quite remember now. Save for under five people I am close to, I stay true to that though.

As I leave today, the 15th of March, I shall leave with a very heavy heart. I shall miss everyone, everything. I shall miss the work, but of course, the utter joy of meeting at least one new person every day, the thrill of being there, on the spot, the power of being able to write what a few lakh readers would read the next day, the luxury of going to places beyond the reach of most people, those we call the ‘commoners’! I shall miss it all; like a friend said, I shall be exposed to the harsh realities of life!

I shall miss the utter haphazard way in which the day goes by, the sheer unpredictability, the odd hours. I shall miss the office so much, my work station. I shall miss worrying about story ideas and specials and word count. I shall miss the sheer joy of seeing my byline in the newspaper. I shall miss the hundreds of acquaintances and sources I made over the years. I shall miss being a journalist, the slight joy that springs up in my heart when I say the word. I shall miss the hundreds of crazy callers who have the most absurd things to say. I shall miss Press Club and the whole exercise of going to assignments and waiting for hours.

I shall miss my colleagues, nay, friends in office. I shall miss bitching about work and life with Jay (though we will go on more trips together!), fighting with Subbu and writing his intros and laughing over the silliest things. I shall miss the fun the three of us have in the office, cribbing, plotting cruel things, sharing music and movies and gossip. I shall miss them both the most. I shall miss the endless cups of chai. I shall miss Nirmala and the discussions we have on books and movies and about changing the world. I shall miss Sita and the endless comments on the neighbours and the shocked stares and the endless plans to go everywhere.

I shall miss Manu for the comrade he is ;-) and the Kodagu connection. I shall miss Gullu for the conversations across the cubicle, the whispered gossip and the silly jokes and innuendos. I shall miss Sudhir for the long conversations, pulling my leg. I shall miss Susan for the sweetheart she is, Shruthi for her ‘magnificent, diamond stories!’ I shall miss Aarthi for her passion for garbage (sorry, couldn’t resist that!), Vinay sir’s stories. I shall even miss night duty, I promise! Gosh, I shall miss everyone in office, everything about journalism, everything that I am attached to, every story that has meant something for me. My first love, I shall miss it.

Until I began to write this, I didn’t realise how much I would miss being a journalist. Why did I quit? I am not sure how I can answer that. There came a time when I had to break the mould I was being cast into, challenge myself and take some risks. I would probably never do it after five years. I felt the need to listen to my heart, follow the hopes and dreams of a sunny day and make my own mistakes, grow, learn, get out of the comfort zone of knowing where my next paycheck would come from. Either I am incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. Either way, it is a risk that I know I had to take, for sanity, to be inspired again.

As for the future, there lies an open road. Not at all well trodden, but that is the way I prefer it. It is exciting, it is outright scary. I shall be writing much much more. There will be other things to do, more roads to walk on, more things to learn, more people to meet and know. My hunger for experiences will help me tread on. Whatever transpires on that open road, I know I shall survive.

A friend firmly said that there is still journalism left in me. I agree, I could never stop writing. I shall be back. Till then, I shall be around.

Farewell, my love. I shall terribly miss you.