Bangalore or bust

Out of the two watering holes Tamil Nadu tipplers patronised during pre-TASMAC days, Bengaluru (then Bangalore) was first among equals. The other was Pondicherry, aglow with remnants of the French colonial sheen.

Bangalore was the preferred destination because of its salubrious weather, cosmopolitan outlook and the redolence of abundant yellow and orange champak flowers. The ‘garden city’ was not a concrete jungle then. The realtors from Bombay were yet to cut down most of the trees in the process of creating gated communities and fix artificial plants in atonement.

There were no Shatabdi or fancy double decker trains that would deposit a ‘thirsty’ man from Tamil Nadu into Bangalore before one could say Siddaramaiah (or Yeddyurappa ). The night mail that started late reached Bangalore in the wee hours when most of the sleepy heads were blissfully snoring. Private airlines that issue tickets now at ridiculously low fares, if booked in advance, were yet to take off. The star train was Brindavan Express, now decrepit, though in service.

Two things many men from Madras liked to hide from their families (read wives) were the trips to Guindy, to put one’s shirt on a colt or two-year-old filly, sired by a thoroughbred, tipped to win even if it walked. The other was the weekend trips to Bangalore to wet the whistle.

Gajapathi, a friend of mine, would not admit he drank whisky. He insisted that he only drank plain water, after liberally diluting it with Johnny Walker’s. He put on his well-worn dove grey-coloured coat ceremonially on two select occasions.

One during his trip to Guindy on Derby Day with the optimism of stuffing the many pockets it had with wads of currencies he would win in a jackpot. The other, understandably, was during the trip to Bangalore to protect his thorax from the blasts of cold air. He also wore a woolen muffler around his neck the way Lord Shiva had a snake around His.

His wife was very fond of what was known as ‘English’ vegetables. Gajapathi capitalised on this to hoodwink his wife. The object of his visit would be to Russell market or City market for fresh beetroot, turnip, radish, cauliflower and cabbage and such not available in Madras in those days. His wife was sick of cutting and cooking brinjals, lady fingers, drumstick, cluster beans, pumpkin (white or red) and last but not the least, bitter gourds.

Though in the agenda of Bangalore visit buying a bagful of the ‘English vegetables’ appeared at the top, the hidden item was his trip to a particular bar, where portly Paramu, the bartender, plied him with drinks. Paramu knew even the number of ice cubes he preferred in a glass of single malt.

But all good things have to come to an end. The surfeit of alcohol in his system triggered cirrhosis of the liver. Alarmed, his wife banned his Bangalore trips, though she would miss the fresh ‘English’ vegetables. “I don’t want him to end up as a vegetable in bed” she said with a wifely determination.

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Bangalore or bust

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