Bangalore in sepia

The foreword by Kiran Mazumdar Shaw describes the objective of this collection of short stories in one sentence: “It is this charm, this grace, this beauty and uniqueness of the Bangalore of yore, Bangalore Blue by Stanley Carvalho tries to capture in its sepia-tinted pages.”

He has tapped a variety of people for their comments on and descriptions of old Bangalore: women athletes, a famous bibliophile/library columnist, freelance journalists, humourists and other literary figures, TV producers, a well-known educationist, a philanthropist, a retailer of imported furniture, a renowned painter, an erstwhile banker, software engineer, entrepreneurs, a food technologist and many others. 

And while their opinions may not always concur, they are united in this one aspect — their love for Bangalore.

The clutch of topics they write about is just as diverse.

The Bangalore blue grapes, which I remember buying in baskets from Russell Market to send to my mother in Chennai to make the delicious grape juice; of differing aspects of life as it was: the daily visitors of vendors and workers (the Chinese silk man and the sweeper woman), and the vaathu man herding his ducks across the road — a sight now more in imagination and reminiscence than in reality; a delightful description by Pradeep Sebastian about the circulating libraries of yore, which fanned or maybe even gave birth to his passion for reading; descriptions of roads and areas such as Malleswaram and Convent Road; of hoary traditions such as ooru habbas and the rituals accompanying other festivals such as collecting Ganeshas for Ganesh Chaturthi, celebrating Christmas and the building of steps for display of bombes (dolls) during Navarathri (here he talks also of the present trend of having Sachin Tendulkar dolls as well!); trains and their sounds of roaring and throbbing, of rumbling and hooting which can fill “eight-year-old hearts with a strange restlessness, the need to leave home, to wander.” 

Many talk of growing up in old Bangalore, of school life, of the glories and innocent mischief during holidays and studies, and the fun of biking along small lanes, the movies, and the eateries.

Some are blatantly nostalgic, of old world dancing and kite flying and a special recipe for a particularly lethal maanja to cut your rival’s kite, of certain houses, in which the author grew up. 

One particularly interesting topic was the description of the traffic circles and their use in reducing the intensity of traffic problems. 

And a dot of nostalgia-cum-history in the story of Whitefield. 

And of course, there is reference to the smells of neem and champak, and of colours in the blossoms of the jacaranda, the tabebooia, of the spring, the summer, the monsoon and the mist. 
 
All stories are written in an easy flowing narrative style. It is nostalgia at its most sepia-tinted.

And yet, it is not cloying as many nostalgic pieces can be. 

Neither do all of them condemn the past bemoaning the change with dire predictions of the future. 

They are mostly observations in true manner: as in “Tracking Down the Past” by Brinda Charry. “That was far away and long ago. 

That day. That time.” Nostalgia is meant to be like an interesting history lesson; to make us better acquainted with the past, for, as T S Eliot says in his Four Quartets: “Time past and time present are perhaps both present in time future.” 

Stanley’s collection, although it “represents an intrinsic sense of concern” comes together more to express the love of the contributors for their city than to just criticise and condemn what is happening.

The narratives are laced with gentle humour as in Indu Balachandran’s essay about the fashion then in “The Only Place In The Swinging Seventies”: “Then came the elephant pant, which I doubt made any male pant, as it was quite unflattering to most girls.” 

In the end, as Sadiqa Peerbhoy says in “Rooting to Belong”, she did not know when she slipped into the rhythm of Bangalore. Yusuf Arakkal introspects that although Bangalore has changed: “Yet, would I trade my Bangalore for any other place on earth. No.”

There is regret, yes, a rueful regret for what was, but an affectionate one which celebrates the memories. I wish, however, that the articles had been arranged better, say topic wise. 

But maybe the effect, that of a charming but slightly disorganised collection, symbolises the Bangalore these authors remember and wish for!

A good light-hearted read on a rainy afternoon with a discussion to follow, or a stimulus for others to remember long forgotten tid-bits of the Bangalore of yore.

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