Bangalore or Bengaluru?

Bangalore Days was a wonderful movie. Especially so because just like the protagonists, I was also very excited with the prospect of moving to the city. As a starry eyed teenager, whenever I was told that there exists a city in the South which is bigger that Delhi, more cosmopolitan than Hyderabad and cleaner than Kolkata, I wanted to become a part of the hustle and bustle of this city.

Was Bangalore a revelation when I finally got here a few years later? In some ways yes. The cosmopolitan aspect of it was true. You could find both Punjabi uncles as well as loud Bengali aunties in the midst of Malayalis and Telegites. The Kannadigas were difficult to find though.

For a first timer, it comes across as too huge a city to fathom in a day or more. It’s too vast and too impersonal at some level. In the film Divya remarks that there is no one and nothing in the city that she can call her own.

That sentiment of alienation among the crowd of Majestic and Shivajinagar is very familiar to me. Everyone is too caught up in their own worlds to notice the other. However, after a series of dramatic events, DIvya, Kuttan and Arjun come to terms with the ways of the metropolitan.

For a conservative good boy like Kuttan it means being comfortable with walking on the side of road where a couple is kissing. For Arjun, that means learning the importance of a career and establishing one self.

The wanderer becomes the settler and the conservative becomes a liberal. It is a city where dreams come true. A place not restricted by traditions and customs as much as the rest of the country; yet a place which smells of culture.

Bengaluru is Bengaluru for some and Bangalore for others. It is the go between for some who are seeking a transformation from traditional living to modern living and vice versa.

The American girl that Kuttan ends up marrying is the example of how people come here seeking culture. That aspect of the film rings a bell.

But what the filmmaker missed was the traffic, the over-crowded BMTC buses that Arjun travelled on, the eve teasing that Divya could have faced when she came back home alone post classes and the judgmental glances of the neighbours when Kuttan stayed back at his girlfriend’s house.

However, it is imperative that one gives artistic freedom to the filmmaker.  Hence, keeping his perspective in mind, the film definitely did a good job in portraying the spirit of this vast, multifaceted city.

Traversing the city of joy

Kolkata is a city of contradictions. A city where the local bus conductors scream ‘aste ladij’ (slow there is a lady) when a lady tries to get off the bus; it is also a city where men fall on women in those very buses pretending it was an accident.

“I remember this one man who was standing behind me on the bus. He was very sweaty and smelled like a pig. When the driver applied the brake, he had to fall all over me and then did not have the courtesy of correcting himself. I had to shout at him to get him off me,” says Trishna, a college student.

“It was hilarious actually…it’s like he didn’t expect me to react. He seemed so frightened when I shouted at him.”

As more people from other states come to live in the city of joy, they find it hard to communicate with the locals. “Some people are nice though. When I tell them ‘ami bangla jani na’ (I don’t know Bengali) in my accented almost-Bengali, they smile and speak to me in Hindi. Some even try English.”

Roshni Sharma, a local who takes the bus from Dum Dum to South City every day, has a different story to tell. “I find these bus rides fun. I come via the by-pass…the lakes along the way and the breeze is very refreshing, especially early in the morning. I have made friends with the conductor. He keeps a seat for me behind the driver’s every day. He sometimes yaps about his kids and how the older one (a boy of seven) asked him what ‘bara’ meant and he was left open-mouthed, unable to answer.”

Roshni is best pals with the auto drivers and comments on how everyone is very approachable. “Bengalis are a peculiar breed. They can talk on almost every topic in the world and they have an opinion ready even if it’s on the US elections,” she laughs as she sips on her coffee in the Indian coffee house on ‘Boi Para’ commonly known as College Street to the non-Bengali resident.

Dilip, described by all as a ‘bhalo chele’ (good boy), complains about the city’s traffic and the concept of share autos. “The traffic is horrendous…especially during Durga puja. You should see how the drivers drive at that time of year. Everybody is in a hurry to go. Once the signal turns green, you can see the cars race as if they are racing for their lives. And I don’t understand why we have to share autos with noisy people. Why can’t I have an auto to myself and stretch my leg?”

Kolkata witnesses a constant fight between the pedestrians and the drivers. In places like Gariahat and New Market, one can see middle aged women adorned with more shopping bags than they can handle, break all traffic rules and cross the street with admirable confidence when the signal is bright green. They seem oblivious about the screams and insults thrown at them. After all, it’s their ‘baaper rasta’ (father’s road).

An elderly lady who had broken one of the many fundamental rules of crossing the road when the signal was green, had almost come under a yellow taxi. In the argument that followed, I heard her scream at the driver, “arrey dada ami pedestrian…ami age jabo. Apni dekhe chalate paren na?” (Brother I am a pedestrian…I am entitled to cross first. Can’t you look and drive?)

The metro in Kolkata tells a very different tale. Those who swear by it, say that it saves them from the hassles of the road but at the same time present a very stuffy situation every now and then.

Sayantan, a student who takes the metro from Kabi Subhas to Park Street on a daily basis says, “The conversations you get to hear on the metro are hilarious. Since there is no ladies compartment, even the men get to listen into the darkest secrets of a woman. How bad her mother-in-law is and how the mutton curry cooked by the maid had no potatoes in it, are some of the many things you get to hear.”

“Once a man accused a lady of molesting him in the metro. The poor girl had fallen on him when the train braked and he seemed very upset by that. The conversation that followed got everyone in the compartment laughing. It was a good way to start the morning.”

When you think Kolkata, you immediately picture the tram. A foreign exchange student in my ex-college was very thrilled by the prospect of getting on the tram. He begged me to take him on one. Despite my repeated warnings that that mode of transport was nearing extinction, he was adamant about his decision of getting on one.

“I need to tell my folks back at home that I rode a tram…it is going to make them jealous,” he said.

He was left visibly disappointed after the experience. The heat was too much to handle and to top it all, the turtle like pace got on his nerves. After all, the glamour of the tram does diminish after one has spent ten sweaty and slow minutes on it…especially on a hot May day.

Some of my fondest memories of the city are that of the boat rides along the Ganga. You would remember it with equal fondness if you can manage to catch the sun rise or set while on a boat with Bhatiali music (music of the fishermen) playing in the background.

If you are a selfie freak, then a boat with the Howrah Bridge in the back drop provides the perfect selfie moment. A walk along the ghat in the evenings is equally mesmerizing. One can feel the wind on their face and hear the sound of the goods ship entering the dock.

Kolkata in monsoons is much like Paris in the rains. There is something so romantic about it. Just get an umbrella and Bata chappals on and you are good to go. The smell of the earth just before rains is more noticeable in this city for some reason. If you walk down Park Street and Maidan during that time of year, you notice how the green trees become even greener and the ancient buildings donated to the city by the British start to sparkle.

If you happen to be in Park Street at 1 pm, you realize how proficient the Kolkata traffic police is at their job. The direction of the one way, switches at one o’clock and miraculously, there are hardly any traffic jams.

I find travelling in Kolkata oddly amusing and it makes for some great stories at the end of the day when I am back in the comfort of my bean bag and laptop.

Of perspectives

The best part of that house was its terrace. I was visiting my ancestral home in Bangladesh for the first time since my grandfather immigrated to India in 1953. The house, a mansion actually, was located amidst a mango orchard and adjoined a lake used for washing people and fishing.

It was winter time. The exact date was December 29, 2014. It was the year I met my whole family for the very first time in twenty years. I discovered to my great surprise that I was an aunt of five, grandmother of three and a sister-in-law of seven, not to mention a sister of God knows how many. Yes, my family is big.

As you can imagine, having being raised in a city in a nuclear family, I found the company of over 50 relations a little too overbearing and hence found myself escaping to the terrace often. The terrace is bigger than my father’s flat in Delhi and at night, one can lose oneself in its expanse. You see, that part of Bangladesh has very little electricity and the inhabitants take help of torches at night to navigate their way.

One of these nights, I was sitting on a khatia (a form of bed) in the terrace, looking at the night sky and admiring the constellations when a little girl came and sat beside me. I am still confused as to my exact relation with her. But it would be safe to guess that she was one of my nieces. I had seen her playing with the other kids and she seemed to be the ringleader to all the mischiefs.

She would be around ten years old and had bright, curious eyes. She was wearing her night dress and had a red ribbon tied to her head. She asked me what I was doing on the terrace all by myself.

I told her that I was watching stars.

“Can I watch with you too?” she asked.

“Sure.”

To tell the truth, the prospect of watching stars with a kid beside me did not excite me much. Quite on the contrary, I dreaded it.

She sat down next to me and put her hand in front of her eyes. She then pointed her finger at the moon and dragged it to the nearest star. This gesture was followed by a question, the answer to which I am still pondering on.

Mashi (aunty in Bengali), why do they say the moon and the stars are light years apart when I can join them with my finger. It doesn’t take me light years to go from the moon to the nearest star- just takes me a finger.”

The immediate response was to explain the science behind it all and bore the poor kid. She seemed not to want the explanation I was giving her and perhaps wanted me to say that she had bad teachers and recommend not going back to school. After my speech, she looked at me, called me a bore and left.

I smiled. I had never jelled well with kids. Their questions were either stupid or unanswerable. Some asked too many questions. But I had managed to bore my young companion enough that she had left me alone with my thoughts.

Smirking, I lay back and raised my finger to the sky. I too joined the moon with the nearest star in a straight line and it took me a second at most.  It was that day that I understood the power of perspective.

English is an Indian Language

‘English is an Indian language.’ I agree with R.K. Narayan there. It came into India with the British and was adopted by the people of this country, though grudgingly. It is the adopted daughter of parents who are still trying to figure her out. One might argue that the bond of blood is lacking in this case. But I would suggest that sometimes, bonds forged with struggle over time are stronger than the ones of blood.

Take Hindi, for example. It is not the mother tongue of the whole of South India, Rajasthan, Bengal, the northeast and Punjab. Yet it is the national language of this country. Isn’t that another kind of language domination?

Priya Venkateshan, in her essay ‘English gave my generation a voice*’, rightly says that “fewer and fewer children are born in India with both parents speaking the same language. Even fewer grow up in a state where the official language is the same as their mother tongue. An increasing number move all over the country during their childhood.”

I was born in Kolkata, grew up in Hyderabad and Delhi. Now, I reside in Bangalore. My father and mother, both, are Bengalis. However my step-mother is an Oriya and my step-father a Tamil Brahmin. What does that make me? Half Bengali, one-fourth Tamilian and one-fourth Oriya.

By this logic, my Bengali should be flawless. But that is not the case. My Hindi is better than my Bengali. The language I can, however, claim my own is not Hindi, Bengali, Oriya or Tamil. It is a language my people have adopted; a language which was forced on my country. It is English—the language I think in.

The boatman mentioned in Aatish Taseer’s piece ‘How English ruined Indian Literature**’ will not identify with me. He would rather glare at people like me and curse my family for not teaching me my mother tongue. I wouldn’t blame him. He is entitled to his rage. His son (say) Ramesh, despite having done graduation in accountancy, is unable to get a job. Why? Because his English is broken. This would enrage any father. What does an accountant have to do with English- he would ask his son? His son would reply that that is the way the world works.

It is indeed sad how we place one’s accomplishment in the English language above their academic merit and proficiency in their field of work. Anyone who can speak flawless English is deemed to be from a high social ranking. But how is this the fault of the language? The way I see it, the reason English has been given the status of a ‘class’ in this country is the naivety and gullibility of the people.

Language, for the mass, has a very utilitarian role. It is a mean of communication and only that. The academia and the literary community sees a different role of languages. They are right in their own way. For a literature student like me, English is more than a mean of communication. It is art and I take my art seriously. But just because my neighbor’s daughter has not grasped it with the fluency I did, I have no right to look down on her.

India needs to change its thought process. Blaming a language (which is after all, man’s creation) for class domination is not the answer. That is the easy way out. It is us who have placed English on a pedestal and it is us who will have to do the same with all the other Indian languages.

Read the following articles for a better perspective:

*http://swarajyamag.com/culture/english-gave-my-generation-a-voice/

**http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/opinion/sunday/how-english-ruined-indian-literature.html?_r=1

ABC- The Absurd Bengali ‘Cyndrome’

I was born in the late 20th century and to be true to myself, am still stuck somewhere there. Bengal of the 1990s is perhaps very close to the Bengal of 2015. A Bengali joint family is dominated by absurdity. A kid born to one of those households, to which I refer, has to go through certain stages of initiation to be allowed in the inner circle of adults. These toddlers need to be proficient in the arts, music- both vocals and instrumental, dance and academics, of course.

When people ask me about my childhood, I recall my days as a kid in a joint family in north Kolkata. My day would start at 7 am with two slices of bread, eggs, fruits and milk. Shortly after, I would be packed off to school. Back in those days, the concept of carpooling and riding a school bus had not come into being in my part of the city. Hence, reaching school was an adventure in itself- a cycle rickshaw to the bus stop, a bus to the metro station, the metro, another rickshaw and finally, school. I was invariably late every day because I fussed about going to school till about the age of 10. After a lot of crying on my part and a lot of threats from the other side, I would walk into school with a red face brimming with tears.

My school was one of the most reputed and strictest schools in the city- South Point. It had a daunting make- one that looked a lot like Principal Nolan of the ‘Dead Poet’s Society’. It was stuck in the Victorian eras where the staff carried around long wooden canes to be used on the students. I was one of those unfortunate kids that got whacked on a daily basis for a variety of reasons ranging from not completing my homework to talking to a fellow bench-mate.

School would end at 1 pm when I would be brought home and granted a few hours of rest post-lunch. One needs to understand that a characteristic feature of Bengalis is that these boastful creatures need to sleep for a couple of hours after lunch in order to rejuvenate their already superior grey cells. Evening was the time my real education began—Bharatnatyam classes followed by Hindustani classical training followed by art class. I was not particularly good at any of these. There have been instances when I stepped on a classmate’s foot while dancing. Another time, my guru had to physically shut my mouth because I went really off-scale on a spur of inspiration. Coming back home, I would get my ‘jol khabar’ which is the third meal in a Bengali’s day. Yes, they eat 4 times a day.

This was not the end of my traumatic day though. The second last part of the day was sitting to study at a round table with my siblings supervised by an adult, usually a granny. You would be lucky to have your elderly grandmothers sit beside you, as compared to the mother or the aunt. They were kinder and much more benevolent. After about two hours of sharpening the grey cells, dinner would be served and we were allowed exactly half hour, by the clock, of television per day. Bengalis are sticklers for time within domestic boundaries only. TV watching was also a supervised affair. Once I remember having flipped to FTV and my aunt caught me in the act of admiring the models. The lecture that followed made me feel ashamed of myself and made me want to bury myself in the ground.

Such were my days as a kid in the city of joy. I used to want to escape the mundane life back then. But now that I look back on those days, I wish to go back and set things right. I wish I had paid more attention in those dance classes and corrected my staccatos in those vocal classes. If it were not for those forced classes, I would never know the charms of the arts and never be able to appreciate the freedom of flipping TV channels without anyone breathing down my neck.

Such is the absurd race of Bangalis. These people are so full of themselves that they will burst someday in the not-so-near future. Yet, you perhaps cannot find a race which is more balanced like theirs. These fish eating, Rabindra Sangeet lovers might have odd ways and loud voices- such loud that one cannot take a dump without the next door neighbor knowing- but at the end of the day, they too are harmless creatures trying to prepare their next generation to face a cruel world. For that oddity and strictness, I am, oddly enough, grateful.