Thursday, November 05, 2015

Memories of Mangaluru: Filter Coffee Column in Kindle

Things were never the way they are now, when we inhabited that city. In the wake of the rise of fundamentalism in Mangaluru, something I wrote for Kindle.

Read here or see below.


Anniversaries, those damned things. They serve perfectly to throw a harsh spotlight of how much you have aged, how long your past now is. Ten years since this, twelve since that, twenty this, more that. High school seems so very far away now, because university itself was ten years ago. The eleventh year now, since I first moved out of my home in the hills and went to university four hours away in Mangaluru, nee Mangalore. The city, clad in the cloak of its old name and the ideas of its past (and present) as a trading port that came with its old world charm, was what we then called a small town trying very hard to be a big city. And never really succeeding. Not then, this was before the malls and Café Coffee Days and Pizza Huts and air conditioned halls of clothing that began to crop up the year I left that city.

I feel like a subject in those Iran and Kabul photos from the 1970s, where the women in university wore short skirts, smoked cigarettes and hung out with the friends who happened to be boys, those pictures that lamenters of a bygone era juxtapose with burkhas and hijabs and cold streets filled with fear and restriction. I feel like the women in those pictures, and alternatively like these lamenters, when I see what is happening in Mangaluru these days. The latest is that two men were beaten up for working in the same shop as women of another religion. It goes without saying that the former are Muslims and the latter are Hindus. It is always, always this. It is always Hindus against the Muslims, though sometimes it is the other way around too. For talking to each other, for being in the same classroom as each other, for breathing the same air as each other, for being alive in the same time as each other….again and again, it has begun now, this relentless dangerous trip that they seem to be on – what have they been smoking? Shouldn’t it have made them peace loving and mild and blissful? At least that was what the hippies said it did to them? What has happened to the hippies?

Like two aunties sitting back with our men alongside us feigning mild interest, dear old friend of a decade, P, and I talked about Mangalore the other day. Her native, as they say, for me, the town I grew free and me in. We talked of the senior who used to sneak into the hostel late in the night after a party at the pub – a mild place with bad music that served alcohol and was not grand enough to be called a pub.

The privately owned buses that plied between the city and the university had gaudy lights and were painted in bright red and fuschia. They all drove like bats out of a deep dank hell. You could set your watches by the time they kept, for so fierce was the competition and the time allotted to each company to ensure fairness. The drivers, pilots they sometimes called themselves, they were young and brash and wore cheap perfume and acted powerful. Short affairs sprouted often enough between them and girls who were regular passengers. The whole route to the city was strewn with colleges of various status, degree and cool levels. Some of these girls were Muslim and were clad in burkhas, tightly clinched at the waists, their kohl-darkened eyes beautiful, enchanting and seductive. The affairs, I am told, were mostly conducted through these kohl-ed eyes and the eye contact the driver held in the rear view mirror. Like some innocent love story in a village from a time long past, the eyes spoke, apparently. P and I, liberal as we were, with more easy access to boys and the freedom we had, have taken for granted, had laughed then. We laughed now too, recollecting these stories. We told ourselves it was a reluctant laughter, as if with that carefree, harmless judgement of these futile romances, we could ignore the threat something like this would pose today. The driver would be chopped down in broad daylight, if not beaten beyond recognition. The girl would be married off within the month.

We found ourselves remembering old stories, as it often happens when old friends meet. We also found ourselves commenting on how the stories we knew to be innocent and befitting of the young and foolish age we were would be seen in this raging times. We felt like old wives talking yet again of our times when times were good and people were kind.

Can we ask ourselves some innocent questions please? Call me naïve, I won’t mind. Strip away all the complicated politics and nuances and power games that go on here and explain to me why we hate and why we hate so much people that look, talk, eat, act, copulate, live and die like us. Such an unanswerable question, isn’t it? Because once you strip away all that makes these questions so much more than what they are in plain words, the question becomes irrelevant too.

It seems like such a simple thing, this whole caste and religion thing. It is all really about respect and that live and let live policy we learnt about in school. Yet. All this fundamentalism, this utter, utter stupidity, foolishness that is so juvenile, yet is the most dangerous because it comes not with logic or thought.

Such pointless things we say to while away the time. Like how things were not the way they are now. Like how the Muslims in our friend circles were just friends, not ‘Muslim’, that their names were just the words we called them by, not a marker for which god they believed in. Like how, in just a decade or less, the city we happily walked about in is a city we no longer recognize. Not merely for the glitzy shopping arenas it sprouts. Not for the indie bookstore, beloved, much frequented, that has now closed. Not for the veneer of modernity that is the Midas touch for most of its lanes and people. Not for any of the things inevitable in everyone’s sprint to happy consumerism. And that is why P and I don an aunty’s demeanour and join the lamenters.

For it is not for the innocence lost. We aren’t the innocents we were either. It is for the regression that is walking alongside the outward markers of modernity – the malls and such like – that is turning a town pretending to be a city into a village where power and fanaticism, religion and state all mesh together to weave a web so entangled that one can only hope won’t trap the spider itself.

For hope, hope is all there is, however bleak and futile.

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