When the Times of India, Bangalore was celebrating their 25 years in the city, they asked many Bangaloreans to write about their perspective on Bangalore. The perspective of Bangalore, I knew deeply was Anglophile Bangalore…so I plunged into writing the article with that slant. Couldn’t pretend I was equipped to write about the plurality of Bangalore or many other spheres, so stuck to the uni dimensional.
When we moved to Bangalore in the Seventies, the city was a haven for Anglophiles. Everyone around us spoke in English. From classmates, neighbors and domestic help to just about everybody on the street. As kids of mixed parentage, English was the only language we spoke at home….so this was indeed a welcome relief from the North. We settled in quickly, as kids do, and were soon chattering away- with our typical Bangalore accents. My mother, so taken by everyone’s familiarity with the language, would brag that even the milkman cheerily greets her, with a “Hello, Hello”. (It was only a few years later that she actually realized that it was “ haalu, haalu” that the poor man was saying, but had quickly switched to “hello” taken by my mother’s enthusiasm!).
Colonial influences were apparent everywhere. You only had to be at some of the Bangalore’s best known institutions-Victoria Hotel, The West End, The Bangalore Club , The BGC and so many others to understand Banglore’s slant to it. Enough has been written about the Architecture, but the true spirit was found in the Bangalore equivalent of Jeeves. Smartly turned out in his white uniform, this stalwart could lay an immaculate table, and serve up a feast of Bakes, Roasts, Casseroles and Stews, alongside Caramel custard, Trifle, Souffles and Bread & Butter pudding. Not to mention, a mean G&T on a Sunday afternoon. We were lucky to have a few of them in our life during our growing up years. Looking back now, I realize how each of the recipes, had their own little Bangalore twist. Caramel custard with elaichi, Irish Stew with coconut milk, Masala chops, Spicy Roasts and of course, the all time favorite Sago pudding which we kids called “Fish Eyes in Glue”!
Bangalore reveled in its past. Stick jaws, Lemon Drops and Bulls eyes from the school Tuck Shop to Hot Cross Buns and Plum Pudding from your local bakery. When western flavours hadn’t permeated into much of urban India, Russell market was selling Avocados, Broccoli, Celery, Passion fruit, Star-Apples and fresh herbs like Dil and Parsley. The festive season brought in Turkey, Duck and Smoked Ham with Ginger Cordials and well fortified Home made wines. The Only Place was serving Waffles for breakfast and the best done Steaks and Apple Pie, for as long as I can remember.
Our growing up years in the eighties and nineties saw Bangalore doing things in a style all of its own, this time with a lot more confidence. At a time when burgers and fast food crept slowly into the rest of India, Bangaloreans were already well versed with the fare- from our very own Casa Piccola, Ice & Spice and Indiana. Even today, ask any true Blue Bangalorean where he’d prefer his burger from and I’m sure it would make any multinational rethink their marketing strategies! When Draught Beer was introduced, Bangaloreans took it to a whole new level…and the Bangalore “pub” was born. “Garden” pubs mushroomed. Overnight, even open air places like Shyamparaksh on Infantry road were serving chilled beer alongside Paper Masala Dosa. Aunties in Kanchivaram sarees and 7- diamond nose rings sat with their younger jean clad counterparts, all enjoying a good swig. It was no big deal. That was vintage Bangalore.
The sense of open mindedness that prevailed was apparent. Dancing all night at The Blue Fox, Knock Out or Jiving to Shyam & The West Wind at Mandarin Room was common place. No Cindrella hours and certainly no narrow minded connotations associated with dancing or live bands. The arty side of Bangalore was real. Audiences devoured our very own home theatre groups like ART and BLT. Music festivals featuring Bangalore’s own talent were always a sell-out. Most importantly, it was the music not the hi tech that drew the crowds. And as life’s pace quickened, Bangalore still had something personal about it. In its own little way the sense of community prevailed. Where else could groups exhibit their talent (as they did at the Band Stand in Cubbon park over many Sundays) just for the love of music?
Today, Bangalore has come a full circle. I often feel like I’m slowly waking up from a deep slumber. When did it all change? The day flies by in a blur. Benchmarks have changed. Bollywood is in. The Kurti is it. Hinglish , Kanglish and Vada Pav. Fake American twangs. Less time. More money. You know Bangalore is changing when my friend Prahlad Nanjappa, a self confessed Anglophile, has the title track from “Mungaru Male” as his hello tune. We “old” Bangaloreans crib a lot nowadays. We crib about the Glass and Steel. We crib about the traffic. We crib about the crowds. We crib about the curfew. We crib about the chaos.
But scratch a little deeper. Where else could there be….Wine festivals in a Botanical Garden with swigs for free? Golden Rose smuggling beer out, way after curfew? Theatre platforms like Ranga Shankara brimming with talent and an unparalleled bon homie? English films at Rex theatre with tickets and pop corn for just Rs 100. And so many more….Just open your eyes and look. Peel away the veneer. Call it Bengaluru or Bangalore. Who cares? My Bangalore still exists. Deeper than just a name.