I love Chennai. The ITC Grand Chola is a magnificent hotel. I spent a wonderful two days there, getting to know my hometown in a totally new way.
So I have been giving a lot of talks these days. As any parent knows, having a group of people listen without interruption is like a dream. At home, of course, my opinions and advice are laughed at by my kids. So it was a treat to talk to young college students about the importance of literature and humanities.
This one was to the scientists at ABB. A gentleman wrote to me out of the blue. I saw his title and promptly said No. What was I going to tell scientists?
Ashish Sureka, Ph.D
Principal Scientist, Industrial Software Systems (ISS)
India Corporate Research Center (INCRC)
After much persistence on his side and deep breathing on mine, I said Chalo, ok. My goal was to speak without props. No notes, no laptop, just old fashioned talking. Here are some photos. It went well.
“Shoba, you need to be on the back page of Outlook,” said the voice on the phone. “Have a look.”
I like “Diary” pages because they imply casual writing. This took a few iterations however.
The main dissonance was that I remain an optimist about Bangalore. The first draft was sunny, exuberant even. Thankfully, Krishna, my editor, gently suggested that I add a caveat. Hence the “unliveable” city quote, which, as it turns out is how many Bangalore papers are describing this city.
For ‘transplanted’ Bangaloreans like me, who love the city’s grace, gentility and gunpowder laced dosas, the big fear is where the IT explosion is going to end up. There are periodic reports that call it a “dead” city, a claim that 8.5 million of its residents live to refute. Others—mostly jealous Northerners—call it “unlivable”. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what your definition of unlivable is.
One area offering a ray of hope amidst such ‘accusations’, is the revival of Bangalore’s lakes. As ecologist Harini Nagendra’s book, Nature in the City, points out, Bangalore’s tree cover has increased but the number of its lakes has decreased. This is changing, and not a moment too soon. Last year, Varthur Lake was covered, not with dancing water lilies but with soapy detergent rising like froth above the water.
This month, a research team from the Indian Institute of Science has used soldiers and students to survey Bangalore’s lakes and come up with a detailed plan to save them. The slush and sediment at the bottom of lakes, for instance, could be dredged and used to make bricks, says the report. Companies around the lake could use a part of their CSR for lake restoration. Five corporates already have; and I am going to name them here so they don’t back out. They are Biocon, Wipro, Mphasis, Sensara Engineering and—surprise, surprise—the UB group. The citizens are no slouches either. Spurred by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)’s initiative to revive 40 lakes, four citizens, who live around the Ambalipura Lake, came together to form a non-profit. By planting the right kind of native trees, this rara avis effort brought back 40 avian species. Maybe I should do something about my local Ulsoor lake too.
The irony is that real estate developers advertise ‘lakefront property’, yet their very existence is a threat to the said lakefronts. Bangalore used to have 270 thriving lakes in the 1970s. Hopefully, this combination of corporate, citizen and government compliance and effort will revive the storied “sarovaras” of this so-called Silicon Valley.
A canvas of artists exhibited their work at the Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG) last week. Curated by Ayisha Abraham, who teaches at the Shrishti Institute, the exhibition offered a glimpse of the past, present and the potential future of this venerable art gallery at the border of Cubbon Park.
The VAG is the seat of controversy because of a proposal that it be “adopted” by the Tasveer Foundation, headed by art collector and dealer Abhishek Poddar. Artists such as Pushpamala and Balan Nambiar are protesting such an adoption, stating that gentrifying this gallery, where many Bangalore artists had their first shows, would put it out of reach of the very artists it is supposed to serve. Supporters of this approach have written long missives stating that museums are an elitist exercise anyway—why not make the experience better for museum-goers? The fate of the VAG is in play with no resolution in sight yet. The question is: Can egalitarianism coexist with elitism? While the perceived elitists promise to walk this fine line, the protestors are doubtful.
The Bangalore Wine Club met at JW Marriot only to hear that its general manager, Parul Thakur, had won an award. Female general managers are few and far between. Thakur served us quite a spread, which got me thinking about wine and cheese. So I made the trek out to Krishna Raja Puram or KR Puram.
In a quiet Benedictine monastery are a group of monks with pronounced Malayali accents. I waited under the mango tree while a young man in purple shorts fetched me what ended up being a rather tasty mascarpone, some pecorino and goat cheese. Vallombrosa cheese, made by Benedictine fathers, delivers to city outlets. But to collect the cheese from their place of origin is a special thrill. ‘Terroir’, as the wine connoisseurs would have it.
Bangalore is full of people following multiple diets such as South Beach, Paleo, Atkins and high-fat. Where does that leave us masala-dosai loving, carb-addicted vegetarians? The highlight of my morning is a walk around Ulsoor lake followed by a set dosa, or, if I am feeling adventurous, a rava dosa. I used to think these were wholesome foods, but the protein-propagating protagonists of these new diets call them poison. Stop messing with my dosai, I say!
For a taste of Bangalore, try the all-encompassing ghee rava masala dosa with a dollop of coconut chutney at an Adiga, Maiya or MTR outlet. It’s a piece of heaven. Chew on that, you joyless dieters, you.
Mint Lounge columnist Shoba Narayan is a tree-hugger, bird-watcher and author of three books
E-mail your diarist: shoba [AT] shobanarayan [DOT] com
Namrita works for Egon Zehnder and is passionate about women leaders. Here is a piece she wrote for Mint today about Leaders & Daughters. See it here
As a mother and a daughter, I think this is really cool. Check out #leadersanddaughters and @namritasj in Twitter. Show your support by sharing this link. Thanks.
Thanks for the plug, Ashville, North Carolina here
“And, while there was precedent for a memoir with recipes (Elizabeth Bard’s Picnic in Provence, Shoba Narayan’s Monsoon Diary and an entire Goodreads list dedicated to “books shelved as cookbook-memoir”), “the cooking lessons with Jonah linked me to the way food was central to both of our stories,” Smith says.”
Funny how poetry evinces so much passion. Did not realize.
As a poetry junkie, loved your last column. Would love to meet your father some day. Like your father, I too “had to memorise” Abou Ben Adhem as a schoolboy!
By the way, if I am not mistaken, the correct verse is “An angel writing in a book of gold” – and not “an angel writing in leaves of gold”.
Here’s the link to a piece on Abou Ben Adhem and, incredibly, an obscure topic in the biological sciences. It is by, who else, a South Indian Brahmin (Tam Brahm, perhaps) scientist based in the US!
I think you will like it.
Best regards. Vivek
PS: Do let me know if the link does not open.
Begin forwarded message:
From: Padi Moorthy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: May the professor’s tribe increase
Date: November 16, 2015 at 9:15:13 PM GMT+5:30
To: Shoba Narayan <email@example.com>, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>
My dear Shoba,
Read your piece on your father’s love for poetry
You are lucky to have a father who remembers Abu Ben Adam.
He has the talent to remember lines and recite them
My memory is notorious
But of all poems I remember Casabianca !!
The boy stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled
The flames that lit the battle wreck shone round him over the dead”
In a school elocution competition I recited this poem with tears running down my cheek
I got the first prize for CRYING
When some one passes, I remember this dismal Tamil verse, not Kamban or Bharathi
Andandu thorum azuthu purandalum maandar varuvaro Manilatheer, Vendaam
Edu vazhiye naam pom alavum
Nammak Enna endru
Ittu, undu irrum.
Notice the emphasis on Ittu(Give first ,then eat and stay on)
For the plug here