Harshini Vakkalanka called from The Hindu and wanted an insider’s view of Bangalore. I have to admit, I felt like I was betraying my Chennai. But heck, you can love two cities, or many cities.
Cubbon Park | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy
Author Shoba Narayan on her relationship with Bengaluru and what makes it ‘home’ for her
My first encounter with Bengaluru happened in the 80s when I was still a student. I would visit my cousins in Rajaji Nagar. At that time, Bengaluru seemed like a small town with good weather, lovely people, greenery and all the clichés. All those things that old-timers in the city hark back to are true.
I moved to the city in 2005. Even then, the city seemed liveable. My children began their schooling here. I think the drastic changes started happening when the construction of the metro began, though it is a positive step.
I find the people of Bengaluru are genteel in the sense of being welcoming. Even the auto drivers are more polite, you can walk into a shop and look around and leave, without the shopkeeper saying something rude. People have more of a ‘live and let live’ attitude, they speak multiple languages, which is good for an immigrant like me. The sad part, however, is that I am learning Kannada only now. I love the weather, parks, and flowering trees, with different blooms at different times. I love the fragrance of the Millingtonia Hortensis (Indian cork tree), also known as the tree jasmine.
The best part about Bengaluru is that it is enough of a South Indian city, for what we expect from one, with some sense of civility and cleanliness. At the same time, it is enough of a cosmopolitan city for global citizens to feel at home.
As an author, I find there are many Bengalurus, as it should be, in every great city. The Bengaluru that interests me is that of the vendors who walk the street. The jamun season is here and in Malleswaram, you’ll find baskets of litchis and jamuns, the way they are arranged, in pyramids, is so beautiful, as are the santhes and melas of averkkai, and the seasonal flowers in the city market. I like how when you walk into Russell market, you will find English vegetables on one side and Indian vegetables on the other. In the Dharmaraja Koil street intersection, you will find a woman who knows the benefits of different greens. This is the Bengaluru I am interested in, it provides a lot of fodder for anyone who wants to write about it.
And of course, there are the milk ladies and the milkmen. Even yesterday, I saw a man on a bicycle carrying milk in aluminium pails. They are ubiquitous in my neighbourhood, around Ulsoor . They are part of a way of life that I find hard to replicate in other cities.
The changes I have hoped to see in the city are already happening. Most writers have this element of ‘flaneur’ where they walk around the streets to get inspired. It is nice to see that public spaces such as Church Street, are being remodeled for pedestrians. I feel this is still a pedestrian-friendly city, where throngs walk on the streets. I would like this writerly aspect to grow.
I began as a reluctant Bengalurean. Those who grow up in one location all their lives, leave a little bit of their hearts behind. I always thought of Chennai as home. Now Bengaluru is my home, where I take NRIs out for shopping, go to Avenue road for street food, to CTR or Vidyarthi Bhavan for good morning dosas, walk around Ulsoor lake, go birding in Lalbagh or Cubbon park. The process by which a city becomes ‘home’ is when every place is associated with a memory. I have so many associations with the city. I have spent so many afternoons at the tennis association, hanging around while my daughter learned tennis. I have gone rock climbing at the Kanteerava stadium, I have signed up for 10k runs.
What I regret is not being engaged in the vernacular circles, which I was not able to do because I can’t read and write in Kannada. On the positive side, there is enough fodder for writers (in English) in Bengaluru, from lit fests to spaces such as Atta Galatta or initiatives such as The Great Indian Poetry Collective. One has the chance to listen to inspiring talks at several venues from The Bangalore International Centre to the National Gallery of Modern Art. One can choose to be part of the community of writers if one so chooses, people here are inclusive, accepting and welcoming.
The fact that I have got by for 10 years, communicating in Tamil, until I learned Kannada, says something about the city.
As told to Harshini Vakkalanka
This column features the city through the eyes of a prominent Bangalorean