New column for Hindustan Times: Bangalore Talkies

When R. Sukumar calls and asks me to write a column, I don’t say No.  This is the result.

For Hindustan Times’s new Bangalore edition e-paper (for now).

Here it is.  And what a pleasure to get back to writing for you, Sukumar.

What makes Bangalore Special

What makes Bangalore special?

Amongst those who live in– and love their cities– and the two don’t necessarily go together– there is often a somewhat trite parlour-game that is played, often after copious amounts of alcohol. The game relates to identity, of a city, of a person. It often begins with the question: are you a true Bangalorean?  If the participants can manage to keep away the needless competition that often springs up (my city is better than yours), the game is actually a good one for it requires you to figure out the essence of your city and yourself. Who is a true Parisienne, Mumbaikar or New Yorker? In an age of global transplants, is this question even meaningful?

Well, a start would be language and lineage. A true Bangalorean has lived in the city over generations and speaks the local language. As with any definition, the exceptions define the contours of this debate and most especially here in Bangalore. Go to Chickpet or Avenue Road and you will find third-generation Marwaris who sell silver vessels and handwoven silk sarees. Go to Ulsoor and you will find Mudaliars from Chennai whose ancestors came to Bangalore to work for the British and now own vast tracts of land. Both communities speak Kannada and have lived here for generations. But they choose their spouses within their own community, defining themselves in this key life-choice as outsiders. So then, a better question is, “What type of a Bangalorean are you?” Let me list out a few types and see if you can relate.

There is the Bangalore of Cubbon Park and Lalbagh, filled with bird-watchers and runners, forest-bathers and tree-huggers, all of whom repair to these arbours everyday or at least every weekend, for their fill of oxygen and exercise. Used to be that these informal groups would end their exertions with a coffee from a darshini or MTR (although locals would say that both Vidyarthi Bhavan and MTR are overrated). Today, in the age of intermittent fasting, these groups ‘cheat’ by scarfing down the best vada-pav outside Mumbai from the street vendor who stands near the entrance of Cubbon Park.

Wildlife is a big theme amongst Bangaloreans, situated as we are, hours from the Nilgiri Biosphere. On Telegram, there are conservatively 10 groups devoted to this topic: Bangalore Wildlife Friends, Nature Conservation group, Bangalore Butterfly Club, Project Gubbi Goodu that makes nest-boxes for sparrows and many others. Join one of these groups and you will meet experts on arachnids, moths, ants, or bats.

If you are a foodie, Facebook is your quickest route to connect with food lovers in Bangalore. There are large groups with 182K members and smaller specific ones like the Cooke Town Foodies and the Bangalore Coffee Thindi and Oota Club. There is a Koramangala Lunch Group that meets every week.

There are several wine and single malt groups that focus on the tipple rather than the dish. But all great Indian cities have such food and wine groups. What then is specific and special to Bangalore?

Is it our love for bookstores like Blossoms or cafes like Koshy’s, both of which have a sense of place and authenticity that are hard to duplicate?

Is it the elderly aunties and uncles who wander the by-lanes of Malleswaram and Basavanagudi, bargaining for vegetables and praying at the Bull Temple? Is it the churches that dot the “Cant side” or cantonment side of Bangalore, each with its own ethos and attracting the faithful for sermons or in my case, midnight mass on Christmas eve? Is it Mosque Road where all of Bangalore seems to congregate during Ramadan for haleem?

You come to Bangalore to sell a dream and create a startup. That entrepreneurial energy has captured this city, driven up real estate prices, and fostered philanthropists.

I could be wrong but fashion ain’t part of Bangalore’s mojo, not because we don’t have talent, but because even rich Bangalore has a frugality relative to, say, Delhi.

The performing arts thrive here– theatres like Jagriti, Rangashankara, Gayana Samaja, Seva Sadan and Chowdiah hall. Kathak to Chennai’s bharatanatyam, and a mix of Hindustani and Carnatic that would make both Gangubai Hangal and M.L. Vasanthakumari (with her Kannada roots) proud. Art and art galleries don’t attract as many patrons as they do in, say, Mumbai, but that may change in the coming years.

So what makes Bangalore different? Is it our love of Danish Sait, Pushpavalli and Aporup Acharya who make us laugh? Is it the “adjust maadi” spirit that jogs this city along? Is it the city’s golf courses– two within city limits and several outside? Friends from Chennai come here for the weekend just to play golf. 

Ultimately, I came up with the one thing that makes Bangalore special– you know where I am heading, right? It is that tiredest cliche of all: the weather. Come April, when everyone flees to the hill, Bangalore is balmy. Through the year, weather is a non-issue, never discussed. We don’t have bad hair days. At all. And that, for any city, is special.

(Shoba Narayan is Bangalorean by choice and speaks kannada fluently-ish)

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