Stories By The Road

Stories By The Road

There was a time when I used to dread my daily commute to work. I felt it was a drain on my time, precious hours spent doing nothing. But somewhere along the way, I made my peace with it. After all, the choice to live in a metro does come with its own share of compromises.

But this morning, after over 6 years of negotiating Bangalore’s crazy traffic morning and evening, I discovered that I actually enjoy my commute.

It is time I get to spend away from distractions, alone with myself. Some days, I put down a to-do list. On others, I think up ideas for work. But most of the time, I look around me – at the people, the places I pass through. I take the same route every single day and some sights are so familiar, my eyes glaze over them. But any little change, any sight unseen as yet, makes me sit up and think – why the brown and grey dog who sleeps in front of the mall isn’t there today, a new billboard that’s come up near the flyover, a dum biryani shop that’s not open at its usual time…

Looking out of the cab window, I remember RL Stevenson’s poem From A Railway Carriage. Though the element of speed is missing (again, namma trafficku!) the similarities are not lost on me.

Here is a cart run away in the road

Lumping along with man and load;

And here is a mill and there is a river:

Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

Looking out of the cab window feels like looking through a bioscope. I see fascinating snatches of the lives of strangers and trees, but never the full picture. And as the cab moves on, I am left to imagine the story so far and what could lie ahead.

A little boy with a large, oddly-shaped piece of thermocol board, possibly from the packaging of a washing machine or TV, waiting to cross the road. He tries once, twice, falls back, hops on one foot in impatience. A man on a scooter slows down for him and he runs lithely across, and in one swift motion, hits his friend on the head with the thermocol piece. The friend spins around and I see that he has his own weapon in hand, a 2-litre soft drink PET bottle. And there by the roadside wages a war so ferocious, the earth shakes under the heroes’ feet.

On the steps in front of an appliance repair shop lie the Four Musketeers. Four brown dogs so identical, they must be from the same litter. Every day, they lie in a row, each one’s head resting against the next one’s bum. Four little curled-up balls, sticking together against the world.

A married couple in their thirties quarreling loudly. She says something to him and tuns away. I cannot make out the words, but I gather that it is a variation on “Go to hell!” As she walks away, he runs after her, swings her around and kisses her on the cheek. She is confused, embarrassed, delighted, all at the same time. As he grins at her cheekily and walks away, she shouts after him. Once again, I can make out that the words say “Go to hell!”. But this time, they mean something else.

A tenement of makeshift houses with roofs made of tin and tarpaulin. Men, women, children, goats, and dogs live together happily, tripping over each other, shouting across the walkways raucously. The women squat by the roadside, washing their clothes and chatting. An old man sleeps on a wooden plank supported on granite planks. A dog is stretched out near him. A toddler wearing no underwear stands near the dog, knocking him on the head with a plastic bottle. For a second, I wonder if it’s safe. What if the dog is hurt and he hurts the child? Before I can decide, the toddler stops. And the dog sits up and extends his paw towards him, as if to say, “Hey, why did you stop! Let’s play!” and I realize they are brothers.

A banyan tree near a temple, its branches spreading luxuriously, benevolently across the road. A makeshift bench beneath it, on which sit two old men in white shirts and mundus. One of them has a towel around his forehead. The other wears a turban. One of them has no teeth, his cheeks are sunken. The other is weatherbeaten, his cheeks reddish brown from too much sun. One’s moustaches are long and drooping, framing his lips on either side. The other chews paan constantly. They sit there next to each other in companionable silence, two of a kind from afar. I wonder when I grow old, how many banyan trees there will be left in Bangalore.

A man near a petty shop urging a black and white dog to eat the dozen biscuits he has put down in front of her. The dog is clearly not hungry – she wags her tail happily and sits there, staring up at him. In an injured tone, he complains to his companions about her lack of gratitude.

Life, so beautiful, so magical, teeming all around me. And I marvel at what I would have missed if not for my daily commute.

The Warm Fuzzy Feeling Of Compliments

The Warm Fuzzy Feeling Of Compliments

The best compliments I’ve received have been the most unexpected.

Remarks that tell me something I didn’t know about myself. Or those that I’ve got when I least expected it. Or from people whom I’d never have imagined would observe something like that.

It’s a strange and delightful experience, completely different from when you dress well and you know it and someone tells you you’re well-dressed. Or you make a particularly good speech and people clap you on the back and say “Good show!” These don’t warm the cockles of the heart in the same way. Because compliments (like so many human interactions) work on our need for external validation and acceptance.

Sometime last year, we had my husband’s nephew and niece from the US staying with us. This visit was particularly memorable because they were the right age (10 and 14) and we had many interesting conversations during their week-long stay. While making a list of married couples they knew, our niece A2 left out SR and me. When asked why, she said dismissively, “Oh, you and SR maama don’t count. You’re always chilling and having fun!”

Needless to say, SR and I were delighted.

*

“Tell me something you haven’t told me before” is a game that SR and I often play on long drives and quiet evenings at home. The response can be anything from a compliment to a confession, a long-forgotten memory or a funny story – it just has to be something as yet untold. Our theory is that as long as we don’t run out of things to tell each other, we’ll probably stay married.

The last time we played this game, SR told me, “You are a true liberal.”

Divorce, fidelity, having and raising children, vegetarianism, animal welfare, environment protection, cruelty-free living, good writing, filial duties – the list of topics on which I have strong views is fairly long. So this remark quite surprised me.  I then went and checked the definition of ‘liberal’ and found this: liberal-meaning

Quite flattering, I must admit. Ever since then, I’ve tried to live up to that description.

*

Personal hygiene has never been an obsession with me. Important, yes, but not something that dictates my everyday life. For instance, I strongly, strongly believe in washing your privates after every time you pee/poop. Similarly, my dad had taught us to always wash our feet before going to bed (because Nala’s downfall was brought about by Kali who entered his system through his unwashed heel). But I pet my dogs and frequently forget to wash my hands before I eat. Or if I find a stray hair in my food, I don’t retch and run from the table, but pick it out as a matter of course and continue eating.

I’ve never considered myself particularly neat or kempt. That’s why it surprised me when a colleague said one day that I always smell very nice. “It’s not deo or perfume,” she said, “but you just smell nice all the time.”

That’s a line I hug to myself every time I feel a little under-confident about the way I look. I firmly tell myself, “Well, at least, you smell nice.”

*

An after-effect of this rumination is that I am trying to do an Uncle Fred and spread sweetness and light with my compliments. The way I see it, you’ve already observed/thought of something nice – then why not let them know? At worst, they will be embarrassed. But at best, you could make their day.

So this weekend when I was trying out various clothes (and discarding them regretfully because I seem to have graduated from size L but my ego doesn’t allow me to pick up XL), I came across a lady who was trying on a very pretty anarkali dress. Her husband was making all the right noises of encouragement, but she seemed rather doubtful.

I thought it fit her beautifully, but instead of walking right past like I would have, I stopped and told her so. “Really? You think so?” she asked me eagerly.

“It’s perfect,” I told her and strode away grinning because the two of them looked so delighted. Shoppers Stop owes me one.

Hmm, perhaps I should be a professional complimentist (not complimenter, because it sounds so urgh).

Gowri N Kishore. Specialist in honest compliments, guaranteed to delight.

I could work for stores, helping customers make up their minds; in support groups with people recovering from addictions, self-image issues and other emotional disturbances (pro bono, of course); even with PR firms, putting valued guests in a good mood.

Not a bad prospect, actually.

Happiness is…

I was just talking to my brother on the phone. “I am feeling really happy today, da,” I told him, “Because I got so much work done. Not office stuff, but a lot of things I’d been meaning to do around the house.” I was taken aback by his response.

“You’re turning into Amma!”

“Wha-?”

“Yes. For me, a good day is a day spent doing nothing. But for her, a good day is one that is productive.” he chuckled.

That got me thinking. Am I really turning into my mother? At one time, many years ago, such a thought would have disturbed me. But today, it doesn’t. I am a little surprised, a little bemused, and a little glad. Amma is a very smart, disciplined woman, who gets a ton of things done with hardly any fuss, and if any of her prowess has rubbed off on me, I am just grateful.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was complaining to her about all the things that I needed to get done, she listened sympathetically at first. But then said, “Look,  none of these things are going to happen on their own… you need to get up and do them.” 

Today, I had a heavy brunch today and lazed around watching TV till about 4.30. While watching Sex and the City II for the twelfth time, I started thinking. “It’s already 4.30pm. We haven’t done anything much since morning. In a couple of hours, it will be dark. We will start talking about what to do for dinner, and eventually eat something. And then, the day would be over. A holiday wasted. Tomorrow, I will wake up just in time for the puja eduppu, and rush to office regretting all these wasted hours…”

This train of thought was making me feel depressed already!

That’s when I remembered what Amma had said. If I didn’t get up that instant and start doing the stuff I wanted to do, then all my gloomy predictions would come true, and I would have nobody else to blame. Without over-analyzing things, I got off my ass and started.

As of 12 midnight, I have managed to do the following, with a bit of help from SR:

  1. Vacuum the entire house
  2. Do a load of laundry, fold the dry clothes and put them back in the wardrobe
  3. Scrub and clean the kitchen counter tops and stove
  4. Clean both bathrooms, including the wash basins and toilet bowls
  5. Clean window sills, the top of my fridge and cupboards, and other nooks I tend to miss during my regular cleaning rounds
  6. Declutter our study table and TV stand, which were groaning under the weight of bills, cables, magazines, and a ton of unwanted things
  7. Sort and clear out the plastic covers we have at home
  8. hange the bed linen in the guest bedroom
  9. Take Butto for a longish walk
  10. Order groceries and veggies for the next 2 weeks

And now, I have managed to blog about everything I accomplished while listening to Kishore da.

Just reading this list makes me feel absurdly pleased. On another day, when I am feeling lethargic, I’d like to read this post again and feel motivated to get up and act.

Happiness is…

Source; Chris Piascik @ chrispiascik.com

Nobody died.

Nobody died.

I was away from the internet for 10 days. I went away leaving behind some unfinished assignments and projects. My job hunt was paused midway. The emails I had composed to various people still lay in my Drafts folder, waiting for final touches. I needed to get back to some old clients who had written to me.

But, I dropped everything and went away.

The familiar sensation of dread – the feeling of having bitten down on a piece of metal – left me after a few hours. I had not packed my laptop and I do not have internet on my phone. (Here’s why) I locked the door behind me and walked away, blocking all thoughts of ‘pending work’ – fighting my obsessive need for closure.

All through these 10 days, my phone lay somewhere in the entrails of my rucksack, silent and forgotten. Except for a couple of twinges of memory, uneasy thoughts did not haunt me.

I walked for miles up and down hills, into forests and inside caves. I traveled by plane, train, bus, car, jeep, ferry, motorbike and even an elephant. I saw the sun set over the Brahmaputra, like golden honey spread over water. I saw the full moon rise at 5.30pm over the largest river island in the world. I watched the clouds float over brilliant blue skies over a sleepy hillside town. I took a languorous afternoon bus ride through narrow roads flanked by paddy fields and tea gardens. I sat watching cows and pigs graze on yellow-green meadows and rode through a countryside where the twittering of birds could be heard over the dull roar of the bike…

It was another world. Another life.

Even as the plane landed, I found myself wondering about what was awaiting me at home. Emails, to-do lists, chores… I snapped at SR, made sarcastic remarks, lost my temper with airline attendants who were too slow and felt that the taxi driver was fleecing me of hard-earned money.

I was back.

Ready to tackle the demons waiting for me hungrily.

But the funny thing was that nobody had died.

Nothing had broken down because I was away. People had not collapsed all over the country because I had not written back to them soon enough. On the whole, it seemed that except for various banking institutions and online shopping websites, nobody else had missed me terribly.

In the larger scheme of things, the frenetic flapping of my wings did not matter. I did not have to throw myself against the windows, thrash about to get out and get things moving. I did not have to launch myself again and again into the flames.

It is a good realization.

I am going to sit back in my armchair and think about that world. That other world of magic and contentment. Having lived and breathed there once, for however short a period of time, I can perhaps go back to it again.

Or perhaps, I can re-create it – right here, in my head…

Unexplored Bangalore #2: Halasuru (Ulsoor) Lake

Unexplored Bangalore #2: Halasuru (Ulsoor) Lake

When I was googling for ‘Ulsoor Lake’ before starting to write this post, I came across the blog of a seemingly popular travel writer. She had written “[This] is a small lake, nothing remarkably exceptional… this place can be skipped.”

A sense of great indignation gripped me at once – how… how dismissive!

True – as that blogger mentioned, “it doesn’t give the feel of a tourist place”. However, this “non touristy” quality is, for me, Ulsoor Lake’s biggest attraction. The lake is a serene, beautiful place in the heart of the city, and as you glide away towards the sunset on a pedal boat, you will almost forget the fact that you are right here, in the middle of bustling Bangalore.

A little history

According to Wikipedia, Ulsoor Lake was originally built by Kempegowda II in the 17th century and is the only surviving tank built by Bangalore’s Gowda kings. The lake, in its present form, was built by Sir Lewin Bentham Bowring, then, the Commissioner of Mysore, sometime between 1862 and 1870.

It is fed mainly by rainfall and covers an area of 123.6 acres. Its average depth is 19 feet and the deepest section runs to 58 feet. It has several islands.

Halasuru – What’s in the name? 

I found this interesting anecdote about the origin of the name ‘Halasuru’ on Wiki. Reproducing it here in its entirety:

There used to be a jackfruit orchard near the Ulsoor Lake, and the Kannada name for jackfruit being ‘Halasina Hannu’, the area came to be known as Halasuru.

A jack fruit orchard in Bangalore city. SIgh!

The Park & Boating

The lake is bordered on one side by a park and walkways. It is open to the public from 9AM to 6PM. There is no entry fee (we were charged Rs 15 for parking but did not get a receipt; so, I am guessing it’s all unofficial!) and pets are not allowed.

ulsoor lake

ulsoor lake

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Glimpse of Ulsoor Lake from the park

ulsoor lake

The Mayura Halasuru Boat Club allows boating until 6PM. (Each trip is a maximum of 30 mins. So, by 6PM you have to bring your boat back to the jetty) They have pedal boats (2 seater & 4 seater) as well as motor boats (min 10 people). There is also a small eatery (ice creams, cutlets, biscuts & snacks) near the park’s entrance.

We visited the lake at 5PM on a weekday, a time we thought the lakefront would be deserted. Surprisingly, there was a steady stream of visitors – college students, evening walkers and families.

ulsoor lake
Evening walkers

Another interesting thing about  this park is that almost every bench was occupied by couples of all ages, and… …almost every couple was engaged in PDA! Surprisingly, a lot of them were middle-aged and saree/mundu wearing! I would have thought that these benches, located in full view of the traffic on the road, would not be the most amenable places for an expression of louvve, but hey, what do I know! My days of romance got over 5 years ago. 😛

Boating

We opted for a 2-seater pedal boat (Rs 100 for 30 mins). The Mayura representative was very helpful: in fact, he asked us which language we could understand and proceeded to explain the boat controls & rowing rules in the language we were most comfortable with. We were also given life jackets in good condition.

To our far left was the military-governed area of the lake, monitored by personnel of the Madras Engineering Group of the Army. So, we were advised to not venture out to the far left. To our extreme right, the lake surface was covered with a variety of algae and it was practically impossible to see the water beneath the plants. We decided to stay clear of that side too. This still gave us a wide expanse of water to explore, and we set off.

The boat ride was amazing – there were hardly any other boats apart from ours. The water was green and nearly opaque. I wondered just how deep the lake was, and felt just a twinge of nervous anticipation. The lake was dotted with various islands with funny names such as Buffalo ganj and Pasina ganj!

ulsoor lake
An unnamed ganj (small island)
ulsoor lake
Daddy long legs! 🙂

In the countless romances I have read, the hero and heroine often drive off into the sunset. (SR and I got a chance to do this last year in the Rann of Kutch, but that’s a story for another time.) At Ulsoor Lake, we rode off into the sunset. On a boat.

I think I will now let the pictures speak. 🙂

ulsoor lake
View from the jetty
ulsoor lake
Rowing practice
ulsoor lake
Dusk

Let me close by misquoting Jeanne Moreau:

“To go out with the setting sun on a quiet lake is to truly embrace your solitude.”

* Jeanne Moreau is an award-winning French actress. Don’t worry – I didn’t know either until I googled. 😛

Unexplored Bangalore #1: National Military Memorial

Unexplored Bangalore #1: National Military Memorial

When you think of Bangalore, what names come to mind? Lalbagh? Cubbon Park? Malls? Visvesvarya Industrial & Technological Museum? As someone who has wanted to live in this city since the age of sixteen, and who is privileged to be living here now, I am constantly on the lookout for what defines Bangalore – its culture, heritage, history and future. I rely a lot of online reviews and information to research and understand attractions.

This is the first of a series of articles I am planning to write to explore the lesser known attractions in Bangalore. My other condition is that I will be reviewing places that are either free or low budget. For example, I intended to visit Bangalore Palace, but decided not to when I found out that its entry fee is Rs.225 per head. Definitely not meant for the average Indian!

The first on my list is the National Military Memorial on T.Chowdiah Road, next to the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain.

A Little History

This park is said to be India’s first  memorial for war heroes who died for the nation post-Independence. The ambitious project was announced in 2009, but its progress was impeded by numerous delays and obstacles. After missing around six deadlines for inauguration, it was finally thrown open to the public in 2013. However, the memorial is still under construction in parts.

Apart from exhibits of military/defense systems and equipment, the park has a 207 feet high flag pole, supposedly the tallest in India. The national flag remains hoisted at all times and is well-lit. On a day with a strong breeze, the sight of the Tricolor fluttering is magnificent.

Photo courtesy: K. Gopinathan. Source: The Hindu, 24th Jan 2014

(I did not get a good shot of the flag – so, sharing another publicly available image.)

Entry Details

The park is spread across 7.5acres and has two entrances: one from T.Chowdiah Road and the other from Ali Askar Road. Funnily enough, the route or location of the park is not on Google Maps! It is open from 6AM to 9AM and from 4PM to 8.00PM. There is an entry fee of Rs.15, which includes charges to watch the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain. There are two shows daily – at 7PM and 7.30PM.

The Park

The first thing that strikes you as you walk into the park is just how green it is. Not dark, wild, junglee green like Cubbon Park, but a brighter, mellow  green. There are wide boulevards flanked by expanses of lawns.

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

Though the park was, by no means, empty, it did not feel noisy or crowded, possibly because of the open layout and the sheer expanse. If you sit on one of the benches flanking the walkways, you can hear the steady drone of traffic on the surrounding roads. Yet, you get a sense of peace and solitude.

You can even hear bird calls – twitters, cheeps, chirps, warbles, screeches… Given that I am a newbie when it comes to recognizing birds, I merely sat and tried to classify each bird call by the adjective that suited it the most. 🙂

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore   Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore

On weekends and holidays, you can see a crowd start to trickle in by around 4.30PM and thicken by 6.30PM in time for the musical fountain to start. We had visited the park once before on Sankranti and waited for an hour for the fountain – unfortunately, there was a power outage in the area and the show did not happen at all. What was annoying was the fact that the park attendants let 300-odd people cool their heels for such a long time without intimating the cause of the delay or expected time of start.

As time passed, people began to leave in droves. We were among the last to leave, and only when we reached the Chowdiah-side gate did we understand the reason for the no-show. The good part was that park officials returned the ticket cost to all the disappointed visitors. (We did not ask for a refund as we felt that the Rs.30 could be our contribution to the upkeep of such a beautiful park!)

The BDA (the body responsible for developing the park, must necessarily make arrangements to meet such exigencies. Also, if online reviews are to be believed, the fountain invariably starts 15-20 minutes late. So, go prepared for delays!

This is what the fountain and the open-air amphitheater facing it look like in the daylight.

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

Military/Defense Exhibits

Currently, there are around 15 military and defense exhibits in the park. These include actual tanks, missiles, rockets, airplanes and carriers. Though the exhibits, by themselves, are impressive, they are not accompanied by name plates and descriptions of history, construction and use. We saw visitors amble around, pose for photographs and walk away without knowing anything about the equipment. This is a real pity!

The first (and possibly the simplest) step the BDA must take is to put up description boards for each exhibit. Later, guided walks and audio-guides can be provided. This would make the visit a lot more informational.

I was lucky to be accompanied by SR, who, I discovered, is somewhat of a walking encyclopedia of military and warfare. Here are some of the exhibits we saw:

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore
One of the tanks on display at the Memorial
Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore
(L to R) Brahmos, AAD, Prithvi, Agni – the four missiles from the House of DRDO!
national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain
EFA Mobile Bridge
Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore
PSLV

Towards the Chowdiah entrance, there is a children’s play area called the Energy Park, created jointly by the Karnataka Renewable Energy Department Ltd. and the Horticulture Department, at a cost of Rs.1.5 crores. The idea of the park is to teach children about the laws of physics, and especially about renewable energy, through playground equipment. Again, this park has been touted as a first in India.

Unfortunately, most of the equipment is dysfunctional or rusty/broken. Online articles suggest that the park fell into disrepair within a year of its launch in 2006. I am surprised and disappointed that today, 8 years later, nothing has changed. Of course, this does not seem to be keeping children away. They, thankfully, have an infinite capacity to amuse themselves on the most meager of entertainment options – or at least, they would if we don’t trust phones and tablets into their hands to “keep them occupied”.

However, for the children to actually learn something about energy or physics, instead of just playing on the swings or the sand pit, the park needs urgent maintenance and restoration of the equipment.

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

The park is still under construction – there are many underground structures of glass and steel that are standing empty or being used to store building material. This is one such empty structure:

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore

Impressions

I am a sucker for beautiful spots, and I believe parks are the lungs of Bangalore city. So, just for the sheer greenery and calm the park offers, I would keep going back.

But I do not think it does justice to its name – a national military memorial. It is a shame that such a beautiful memorial, with so much potential, is being ruined by red tape and inordinate delays. A little more attention, a little expedience – that’s all it takes to turn this into a lovely tribute worthy of those it seeks to honor.

The Year of the Butterfly?

If I were not human, I would have been a butterfly.

No – I’m not saying that I want to be a butterfly – I’m saying that I am a butterfly.

And no again – it’s not because I consider myself lithe or pretty or even particularly joyful. It’s because I flit. I move from one thing to another to yet another. You would not catch my mind staying still in one spot.

butterfly-flying-01
Source: fumozar.com

That sounds poetic – but here are the side effects –

  1. My to-do list is a few miles long
  2. I have 3 editorial assignments with looming deadlines that are not yet touched
  3. I have committed to many projects at work that have taken the backseat – of a bus, no less!
  4. Everywhere I look, I can only see half-finished projects: the photo wall I wanted to create; the half-finished story; the incomplete painting, the clothes that need to be sorted and kept back in the cupboards, the dust that lines the top of my fridge, the call that I am yet to return; the swimming classes that were abandoned; the Kannada and Theater classes that were never even started

It gets frustrating sometimes – this feeling of being a hamster on a wheel – this feeling that I need to keep pedaling until I drop, and still, there would be things left undone.

SR advises me to drop it. To relax. He says I must be thankful that I have so much to do – that means there’s a lot of purpose to life. But I don’t find it easy. I am someone who badly needs a feeling of closure. The satisfactory thud of the closing a thick book or file and putting it aside. Done and dusted.

So, this Vijayadasami, I want to make a promise to myself:

To NOT be a butterfly. To sit and savor the task at hand and not move on until I am finished.

And if that doesn’t work, then to enjoy the flitting and not write a “crib” post like this one. 🙂