Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ginger, 14. Will Miss You :(

14 years and 4 months is a long lifetime for any dog. But I like to believe that Ginger was a dog only in his form, not in his long association with the rest of us. I have written about his arrogance and about how spoilt he was. There have been times when ma has called me by his name. As for dad, he couldn’t do any wrong, even when he chewed off the legs of wooden stools and ripped apart a tall curtain in the living room.
My dear Ginger died this morning. It is heart breaking when your pet dies and all of us have been bawling since morning. He was sick for a few days now and had stopped eating. But then that isn’t anything new, Gin has always been cheating death. He has jumped off the terrace, got into bloody fights with dogs thrice his size and had possibly all sorts of diseases. And he had survived.


My room was his turf all these years, when I moved in and put in new furniture, he, perched on his rickety table so he could see out the window, would give me a near dirty look. Early in the morning when I was asleep, he would come near my bed and sniff loudly, wondering what I was doing in his room. The table is gone now, but I expect to hear him barge in and slump down under the cot when he was too lazy to go downstairs for lunch.
We had Nancy when a bunch of boys came up, made a sob story about how the mother was killing all her pups, and gave ma a tiny bundle one afternoon a long time ago. It was the start of cold monsoon and before long, Ginger, named for the colour of his fur (and because I wanted an unusual name after a line of Tommys and Jimmys and Tigers), was literally sleeping on top of Nancy. He developed his personality soon thereafter, becoming, like I said earlier, arrogant and thoroughly spoilt.


Ginger never grew tall and lack of calcium early on affected his health all through. But he sure made up with cuteness. Every morning ma would take his blanket out to air out in the sun for a while. Soon, he would drag the yellow cloth out of the room and dump it in the corner of the terrace and plunk himself on it, airing both himself and the blanket! He would decide when he wanted to play with the blue ball which he dug his teeth and grrr-ed into when he didn’t get his way.
There have been many stories over the last 14 years. After Pluto, another dog of the same colour, Gin was the one I was most attached to. We have had dogs all my life. But we got Gin just when I was starting to be a teen, with all the growing pains of that age. He was the one I always hugged after a fight with ma or when I had had a tough day. It always felt better. He has exasperated us for long; we were never supposed to leave him alone at home if we didn’t want something destroyed. Over the years, he chewed up two pillow and spread the cotton all across a room, broken a piece of the door, chewed up all the window stoppers in my room, torn curtains and driven my maid up the wall. But he was always forgiven, always given an equal share in all snacks and some more, thanks to those melting puppy eyes.




The only consolation, if it can be called that, was that we didn’t have to put him down, like the vet had advised us to. We would have had to do so in a few days, that was how poorly he was. I don’t think I could have lived down the guilt of agreeing to that. The other consolation was that I was here at home. Last night, when I went to pat him, he couldn’t open his eyes, but he had sniffed my fingers. He died with my dad cradling his head this morning.
We buried him under the jackfruit tree in the estate behind the house. He would have liked it there. The place is full of tall trees, the sun doesn’t burn down and not many crows come by for him to growl them away. That is the kind of place he, the brat, would have chosen to sleep on hot summer afternoons.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On a Fifth Year Anniversary

I haven’t yet been able to make my mind up about anniversaries. Of all kinds. Do you count the years you survived despite the events they signify or do you intend to evaluate how you have wizened from the day of the event till the same date a year or more later? Or are they a ruse by the card companies to oblige you to buy red cards with hearts on them, added to a handful of roses and some chocolates perhaps? Should you also be obliged to feel guilty if you choose to bury your head and ignore the purported significance of the day? I cannot decide.
Yet, today I complete five years of having lived in the city of Bangalore. After my post graduate exams, I landed up there with dreams of getting state bylines and front page stories, about writing on politics and a lot else. Many things happened since. Too many things, I must say, some good, a lot bad, a lot in-betweens. Mostly, I like to think that I have had fun the last five years.

It took me a long long time to get used to living in the city. For six months I had a throat infection because of the pollution and almost moved out. The roads were crowded, there were too many people and I overall hated it. I tolerate it now; like they say, given time, you can get used to even torture. I admit my toleration borders on liking even. But wake me up any morning and ask me whether I love it as a whole and invariably my answer would be an emphatic no.
Time and again I have written about how I hate all cities, as a rule. I don’t care for people, malls and the traffic. But there are some things though that I love about Bangalore, a list I was noting in my head the last few days that I was thinking about this post.
* Weather: But of course! The famed Bangalore weather has gone down the drain off late, with too hot summers and barely there winters, but when set down against the other cities in the country, the weather here is still fantastic. Despite the pollution, early mornings and grey cloudy days are why I still favour it to other metros.
* Summer blossoms: I am famous for not knowing the names of flowers except for roses, anthuriums and maybe hibiscus. Ma and Lizzie have tried to change that. You can imagine the results! I cannot gasp at a lovely garden the way the women in my life do but every summer I have loved walking in the city and looking at the May flowers in colours of pink, violet and yellow. Are they called jacarandas? I’m not sure. I like the way the word jacaranda sounds. Every summer I have told myself I want to walk in Lalbagh or Cubbon Park and photograph the flowers. That hasn’t happened yet; and I am not sure I’ll be in the city come next summer.
The lovely gardens are another nice thing I love. The smaller ones like the one where I take my walks in the mornings remind me of Shyam Selvadurai’s Cinnamon Gardens.
* Culture spaces: Though it is a pain to travel that distance, I love Rangashankara and the fact that there are so many places to go see and do stuff. But I don’t think I will miss any of them too much.
* Book stores: In Madikeri there is not a single place where you can buy books. When I was growing up, I would note down the names of books that were reviewed in newspapers and look them up when I was in a city once or twice a year. It would take me hours to decide what to buy with the few hundred rupees that I had saved up. A few years later there was the India Today Book Club, a catalogue of books that I would order from, based on the two-line blurbs below the titles.
I love it that there are some great book stores in Bangalore, from K K S Murthy’s Select to Blossom’s to even the glossy Landmarks and Crosswords to go browse. For buying I stay loyal to Krishna and Naveen’s Bookworm on M G Road though.
* The food: From CTR to MTR to Pecos with greasy dosas to my very favourite Queen’s. But then, any city would have its great eating joints.
* 1522: A recent discovery. I love it so much that I had to put it under a separate head. It’s a new pub in the conservative, dead as an old oak tree Malleswaram-Rajajinagar area. I love the d├ęcor, I love the food, I love love love the music, I love the prices and went there twice in a week. That should tell you a lot.
* People: When I moved on campus at university, people frowned upon my Kannada, saying that it was rude. The version of Kannada spoken in the Mangalore region is highly literary and exceedingly polite. When I later moved to Bangalore, I would be shocked at the language of the streets which I found extremely rude. Five years on, I can give back as good as I get but I still cringe at how crude it can sometimes be. The people are nice though. I met some of the best and worst people in life here. But then, if you stick around long enough, you are bound to bond with people anywhere. Yet, Bangalore will always remain special for some souls living here.
I suppose I like it ok here. But for the restless me, five years in one place, half a decade in a city has been a tad too long. I wonder if it’s time to choose again from the two roads that divulge in a wood.

Monday, May 09, 2011

When I Went for a Walk this Morning

When I woke up this morning at 5.30 AM, (unheard of for me even a few weeks ago) it was almost misty! A cold breeze crept in when I opened the window a crack in my room upstairs. It is summer in Madikeri and every year it gets hotter than I can remember it being, yet early in the mornings, the sun decides almost never to turn himself up on full blast. I snuggled another 30 minutes and as always, hating having to wake up, I zipped up my jacket, unlocked the gate and stepped out. It’s my first day in a slightly long haul stay at home.
There is a new road to get to the town these days, through the land we donated to the municipality. I take the old one that takes me to Dr Nanjundeshwara House Street, named after my late grandfather. All the old houses, with yellow and pink summer flowers, wooden awning and cars up front, stand quiet in the morning light. A hint of the sun’s rays fall on a window here and onto the ears of a dog tied to the gate there. There are no people on the road, save for a policeman getting back from his night beat and an old woman wrapped up in a white sweater slowly limping down the road.
This is the road I have taken for years, first to get to the junction from where I would board the school bus and then later when I walked the kilometer to college. Rains in Madikeri can be very fierce, falling from all directions, following the direction of the wind that changes its mind every fifth second. This was the road where I have got my books and clothes dripping wet and got cheeks broken by the harsh winter winds. The houses look familiar, some have extensions now, cars are longer, gardens smaller. The little room that the old woman let out to boys, one of whom used to give me the eye, a very long time ago, is no longer standing.
A little further down is the row of houses, all identical, with small white on black boards with the name of the reserve policeman living there. That’s the District Armed Reserve (DAR) quarters. Further up is the huge sewage line that makes its way to Abbi Falls, a good 10 kms away. The water at the Falls is NOT holy water, for the nth time! Tourists think so and fill up bottles with water that is in fact the entire sewage from the town! The stream of mucky water floods and overflows on some days during the monsoon; on its banks is where I first saw two snakes in their mating dance, one afternoon on the way back from school.
I cross the ITI junction and take a left, past the police community hall from where you can often hear the valaga at a Kodava wedding on late evenings when I open the windows of my room. ITI is the old Industrial Training Institute, the road to whose dilapidated building passes by a relocated British cemetery, relocated from the tourist magnet Raja Seat. On the right side is where I used to wait for the school bus, walking on the edges of an un-used fish culturing pond behind a dirty bus shelter.
On the way to my old college there are more police quarters. In fact, my house is surrounded on three sides by the police and on one side by Stewart’s Hill. To my right is a farm, green and stretching far into the sides. To the left further ahead is the rural police station. At about 6.30 in the morning, not a soul is stirring there. Opposite that is a deep violet abomination that stands next to the tiny little room that sells photo copies at 50 paise a page, Skei ice candies and small chocolates. It was where we used to buy ice candies at Rs 3 a pop every single day of college, by turns one person buying those for the rest of the 5-6 people group. Walking on I come across the stone bench where we used to bunk classes and come to sit, to gossip and watch a world go by in slow motion. The college is in a quieter part of the town, there is never much traffic. It reminds me of a time when I was 18. I don’t want to think how long ago that was.
The road ahead is not too familiar territory. I have never gone there too often, except rare walks and many drive-throughs. These days, I never walk without music, the city is way too noisy, I can’t bear the cacophony first thing in the morning. Plus I absolutely love my new Skull Candy headphones. Astronomically highly recommended, those. But today, I don’t need any. The birds provide my entertainment.
The road opens up soon after, to views of tall hills (though I want to call them mountains) with just a wisp of the morning mist clutching tight on to the clumps of trees. Before long though, their grip slips and the white fluffy veils melt away. As I walk on the quiet road, the path raises over the homes, each with large compounds, beautiful gardens and the aforementioned old wooden awnings. Typical houses in Kodagu, I would like to say. I have stopped counting by then just why I so love Madikeri.
Life is just about stirring up. The nursing college hostel is waking up. The white uniformed girls are waiting with pails to get water from the tap outside. A taxi driver is wiping the front glass of his car. An auto whizzes by, thankfully he doesn’t splice the air with a loud honking of his horn.
I am going one round around my old college campus. It’s a large one. To my right are the old buildings and classrooms, most of them from 1949. I don’t look at them today, I am saving their sights and the memories they will trigger to the morrow’s walk. Behind the buildings, the tall trees catch the rising sun and his rays in a wink now. Starved of such quietitude in the city, like some citiots, I take pictures with my poor phone camera. Citiots are city+idiots, a term from the series Royal Pains, meaning those who come to a place during weekends, act largely irresponsible, and go back, to say they have “done” the town. (Don’t even get me started on those that descend every weekend from Bangalore, shudder!!!)
There was a woman walking three dogs, one was the cutest ever, some sort of mixed Pomeranian, I think. On the way back, I stopped to say hello to my college Economics lecturer whose wife was my most favourite teacher, she taught Accountancy. My old school principal’s son-in-law waved a hello, he on his morning walk. In a small town, you also know such people as the son-in-law of your former school principal.
I cannot help but hum Miranda Lambert’s ‘Everybody Dies Famous in a Small Town.’

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Ah Neruda!


"In what language does rain fall over tormented cities?"
So asked Neruda. I love his poetry, and wish to goodness I had read enough to off-hand quote him. I wish I could read him in the original. I wish I could learn Spanish first so I could read him and Marquez in the original. And Russian to be able to read Tolstoy’s.
Neruda’s was the poetry of love, of passion.
"I like on the table, when we're speaking, the light of a bottle of intelligent wine."
"With which stars do they go on speaking,the rivers that never reach the sea?"
"I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close."
Such words, such beauty, you want to weep, weep the tears of joy, weep of the joy of being alive. Ah Neruda!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Familiar Foods that Smell of Childhood

A few days ago, I was ecstatic in a way I hadn’t been in a really long time. First it was a walk through a fruit and vegetable market. The colours and the smells made me want to yelp with joy. It’s a different story all together how excited I get going grocery shopping!
I was to find this favourite restaurant of mine in the Malleswaram area. It was bloody summer and very hot but the prospects of eating something I grew up eating made me walk in and out of the utterly confusing roads of 8th cross. I missed the turn to where I was supposed to go, instead I spotted the New Mangalore Stores between Margosa and Sampige Roads (I think), next to some temple. It’s along a row of shops and easy to miss, which is what I did all these years. Once I was in though, I nearly yelped with joy.
There were rows and rows of food of the kind I have grown up eating. The shop smelled of the summers of my childhood, spent carefree in the hills of Madikeri and the hot plains of coastal Dakshin Kannada district. I wanted to indulge, right there, in the luxury of pulling up more memories from summers spent eating and walking the hills among the cashew trees, but there were things to buy.
There was patrode, a dish made of some leaves and a lot of other stuff that you eat with coconut and jaggery. The roll of this otherwise savoury dish is so complicated to make and get right that ma would rarely make it. These days its only when I go to the village along the coast that I persuade my uncle’s cook to sometimes make it. Hot and fresh patrode went into my bag. And so did Mangalore Buns that I have addicted to since college. Back in university, buns (always referred to in the plural) were one of the few edible things both in the hostel and in the canteen, with coffee, made super strong and without sugar.
That, and jackfruit chips, made with fragrant coconut oil, plus vanilla drops, tiny cookies in odd shapes smelling of fresh vanilla, plus some pickle, plus the look and feel of familiar foods made me go into a happy tizzy. To the shop owner, from a familiar village in ma’s home district, the look must have been familiar. We chatted.
Back home, stuffing myself with patrode for dinner and breakfast the next morning (gone was the diet I was telling myself I was on), I was reminded again of some happy summers, a very long time ago. It was those days of hot summer breaks from school when we went to my aunts’ houses in the villages. It was in those houses where we roamed tiny hills topped with tall cashew trees, where the cashew fruits were grainy in the mouth and had to be eaten without dripping the juice onto our clothes, for the stains wouldn’t wash off. It was where we spent hours lying in the stream and eating raw mangoes by the half dozen. It was where we ate, fruits, snacks, roasted nuts, full meals, just about everything in sight. It was where we got sun burnt, ate some more, got away with pranks, pushed away hotter afternoons with more mangoes along the streams and read weekly children’s magazines in dark corners of the sprawling houses.
I used to write articles about the food research that was going on in the defence organization in Mysore for TOI. It wasn’t until I went away a month to tour with the armed forces of the country on a defence course that I realized how important food is psychologically. A month without your regular diet can create severe uneasiness. I imagine it would be devastating in war and border situations.
I went through several years of severely missing coconut in my daily meals. We Brahmins from the Dakshin Kannada district (though I am proudly from Kodagu, my cuisine remains, again proudly, coastal) are totally loco about coconuts and use it in just about every dish. I cook with coconut these days, lots of it. But still, finding a place that sold everything from back in childhood was another reason why this city became tolerable for me.