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.

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When life’s gone to the dogs…

When life’s gone to the dogs…

Living with dogs has many perks but it is not without its hairy moments. In this post, I’ve put together a bunch of observations about life with mutts that are only too familiar to pet parents. Non-pet parents, don’t be scared away – for all of these, dogs are the only creatures that will love you more than everybody else in your life put together; the only creatures who will be overjoyed to see you get back home after 10 minutes outside.

So, here goes.

#1 It’s called FURniture for a reason.

As new pet parents, all the literature we’d read online said dogs shed ‘seasonally’ and we naively interpreted that to mean once, perhaps twice, a year. But when you have multiple dogs whose shedding cycles are not in sync, it’s a different story. Every visible surface at home is permanently covered in a light dusting of fur. There’s always fur in the food -you just pick it out without batting an eyelid and continue to chomp down. You buy a gorgeous sofa, but keep it covered under an old bed sheet. Vacuuming becomes a hobby. You get the drift.

#2 Hair today. Still here tomorrow.

Anything you wear will be covered in dog hair. You can buy sticky rolls or rubber gloves or brushes or wet towels to try and get them off, but few things can be as stubborn as a strand of hair that means to stay.

A resourceful friend once suggested that we wear only clothes that match the colour of our dog’s fur so that the hair doesn’t show. Great suggestion – only, we have two dogs: one is black & white; the other is golden brown. Between the two of them, they cover the entire spectrum of fur colours and the fur always shows. Personally, I have given up the battle for a long time now. I wear fur as an accessory now.

#3 Squeamishness will be a thing of the past.

For starters, you will have to scoop poop twice a day. Though this is still a chore that SR and I keep bouncing off to each other, we’ve come a long way from the people who used to make disgusted faces. Now, we check the poop for consistency, colour, and to find out just what S has chomped down the previous day.  Normal dogs sniff things to explore them – S chews them. And if you try to take anything out of his mouth, he will swallow it at double speed. So far, we’ve found bits of a Nataraj pencil, pieces of a rubber toy, string, and cardboard in his poop, and S looks none the worse for the wear.

S also has motion sickness but we don’t want that to stop us from taking him out because once he’s back on level ground, he’s ridiculously happy to run around and explore. So the backseat of our car is covered with a plastic sheet on which we lay an old blanket to mop up the sick. We did try giving him vet-recommended sedatives to calm him down – during that drive, he vomited six times, four more than usual.

And this is not to mention when the poop gets stuck to their bottom and refuses to fall off and you have to run to find a tissue and get it out. Also times when they fall sick after eating too much of anything, excitement drooling, when they splash through pee and bring it in the house…let’s just say hand sanitizer, vinegar spritz, and disinfectant will become your best friends.

#4 Doggy grub will be better than yours.

There have been many, many days when SR and I were too zoned out to move but we still dragged ourselves to the kitchen to fix a meal for the mutts. On truly lazy days, it’s just kibble, but on the best days, it is a biryani of rice cooked with eggs, chicken, carrots and peas and flavoured with pepper, turmeric, and coconut oil. My mom often asks us why we don’t just eat a portion of this because it sure as hell sounds more nutritious than the junk or takeout we eat. But as we are vegetarian, this involves cooking the chicken separately and that’s just too much work. 😛

#5 Losing the battle of responsible parenting.

Every month or so, we are overcome by fits of conscientiousness and remark on what poor pet parents we make. We are not regular with walks (also because the boys are pretty lazy too and prefer to run around inside the house), nor are we regular with their training (most of what the boys have learned were taught to them when they were puppies.) Wracked by guilt, we make resolutions to shake things up and stick to a proper routine, starting tomorrow, no today, no, right away.

And then S will trot over and snuggle up between us and B will drape himself over our feet and the whole setup will feel so cosy and aww-some that we’ll just switch to Comedy Central and vegetate for hours.

#6 The vicious cycle of shopping for dog toys.

No new beginning in life, be it a starting a journal or joining a gym or having a baby, is complete without going out to shop for some ‘essentials’ and coming back with bags full of quirky stationery or light and breathable (read, far too expensive) gym clothes or a pram that resembles a high-powered self-sustaining life mobile.

In the case of pet parents, I think we just never outgrow this phase. We keep buying dog toys and chews and treats in the hope that they will bring lasting and meaningful joy to our dogs. The fact remains that treats are crunched up in a matter of seconds and toys are abandoned in days. But that is not to say that B and S don’t have lasting and meaningful joy – they do. They get it from old socks, twigs, plastic bottles, and the ring of doorbells when we get back home.

I could go on and on about living with dogs but I will save the rest of it for another post. Right now, I have to switch back to office mail and pretend to be hard at work, even if it’s Friday afternoon.

Sigh.

 

Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

I first heard of NGMA Bangalore in 2010, only a year after it had been opened to the public. Around that time, we lived only a ten-minute walk away from where it was located, but never got around to visiting it. Seven years later, we live in another part of the town, over twenty kilometers away, but were seized with the urge to visit this gallery – so that’s what we did yesterday. Drove to Indiranagar, took the metro to Cubbon Park station, and then walked along tree-lined roads and past lovely houses with gardens to Palace Road, where this art gallery is located.

A little history

Manickavelu Mansion, front view. Houses NGMA Bangalore
Manickavelu Mansion, front view

The gorgeous building where the gallery is now housed stands on a 3.5 acre ground with many large, ancient trees, well-tended gardens and a pond. The building was once the residence of the yuvaraja of Mysore, but was sold in the early 1900s to businessman Manickavelu Mudaliar who has his own rags-to-riches story. According to this article, he once wanted to visit the mansion but was denied access until he bribed some of the caretakers. Once inside, he was so struck by the beauty of the place that he vowed to live there one day.

Mudaliar and his family did live in the mansion for a brief period of time but financial issues forced them to give it up. The mansion was then auctioned off and became taken over first by the City Improvement Trust Board (now the BDA) and later by the Ministry of Culture. It was also temporarily used as the UN office for technology initiatives but by the late 80s, the state government proposed that it be converted into a museum.

Restoration work  eventually began in 2003, preserving the heritage building at the centre but with the addition of a cafe, library, and a new wing, and the repair of the auditorium. By 2009, this became open to the public as the third National Gallery of Modern Art in India, the other two being in Delhi and Bombay. You can read more about the history of the building here.

The inside story

We didn’t know what what to expect from the term ‘modern art’, but the introduction to the museum right at the reception helped explain matters. Here, modern art is defined as art and sculpture created by Indians or those living in India at the time from the 18th century to the present (although we didn’t spot any work created after 2000.)

On Saturdays, there is a short guided walk conducted for free by one of the museum curators and we were luckily in time for this. Our guide explained the significance of the various galleries and the unique aspects of some of the styles of art, as well as the techniques used in creating woodcuts and lithographs. We were then free to explore the gallery as we liked.

Most of the paintings are marked with the name of the artist, the year of creation, the title, and the medium, but these details were missing in quite a few exhibits displayed in the new wing as well as in the sculpture gallery. But apart from these omissions, all the galleries are beautifully lit and maintained with many helpful staff stationed to guide you from one exhibit room to the next.

NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard
NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard

There were collections from the Bengal school, the Madras school, the Baroda school and the Mysore school with works by Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Raja Ravi Varma, and many others. Some of the works remain with me even now, especially M.F.Pithawala’s portraits of Parsi women and girls and Abanindranath Tagore’s rural scenes from Bengal. There is a virtual gallery available here for those who are unable to visit the museum, although nothing beats the original.

In the ground floor of the new building is a gallery dedicated to exhibitions and a collection by Kazuaki Tanahashi – Japanese artist, calligraphist and Zen teacher – was on when we went. His works had simple, yet powerful brush strokes in stunning colour combinations, and heroed negative space with great effect.

One piece that caught my eye in the sculpture gallery was an alloy cast of a flautist – there is no discernible head, but every line and curve of the figure is poised to create music, his fingers splayed over the holes on the flute, his lips puckered to blow. An absolute stunner.

There is also a cafe downstairs adjacent to the auditorium where you get really good comfort food like sandwiches and shakes, pasta, parathas, and biryani at reasonable prices. We tried the pasta, fries, and a cold coffee – all were delicious. The view of the garden with the tall, ancient trees right next to where you sit and eat is an added bonus.

The cage at NGMA Bangalore
The courtyard cafe

The garden in the front is full of trees and plants of all kinds, stretching towards the sky. Many of them are old, having been around since the bungalow was constructed. As you sit down by the steps and look at the greenery around, the quietness of the area suddenly strikes you. This is another world, a verdant, whimsical garden, an oasis in the middle of this teeming city.

A view of the grounds at NGMA Bangalore
A view of the grounds

Other details

Address: 49, Manickavelu Mansion, Palace Road

Entry tickets: Rs.20 for Indians. Rs.500 for foreign nationals.

Recommended duration of visit: 2-3 hours.

Photography is not permitted inside the galleries.

Travel Travails

Travel Travails

Imagine that you live in a remote suburb of Trivandrum.

For all practical purposes, it is in the middle of nowhere. There is no bus stop and no self-respecting auto driver will go there. You have to walk 1.5 kilometers south west to reach the nearest bus stop, from where you have a direct bus to college at 8:40 am. If you miss that, you will have to get on a series of buses, clinging on for dear life on the foot board. So the direct Veekkay bus is your lifeline.

One Monday, you are late. Despite having jogged all the way, you miss the bus by a wide margin. On Tuesday, you leave the house ten minutes early, determined to get the bus; but just as you reach halfway, you remember you have left your purse behind and rush back. You locate the purse in a jiffy but find it empty; you bang on the bathroom door, where amma has conveniently disappeared, and obtain the necessary cash. By the time you get out, you are no longer early (to say the least). You run all the way with your satchel bouncing up and down, sporadically smacking your bottom whenever it feels you are slowing down. You reach the bus stop just in time…to see the bus gliding away like a swan.

On Wednesday, you get out of your house twenty minutes early, after carefully checking that you have all the necessary cash and assignments in submittable condition, and walk at a leisurely pace to the bus stop. You can’t help feeling a teeny bit smug because you just know in your bones that today is your day. But just as you pass Bhagat Singh lane, you run into a family friend who insists on inquiring after the welfare of all your family members and describing his son’s many coups at a hair oil company in Chicken, Alaska. After ten minutes of looking pointedly at your watch and shuffling from foot to foot, you give up all hope and stand there resigned to your fate.

On Thursday, you leave forty minutes early so as to allow time for unexpected delays. But no obstacles come your way and you reach the bus stop at 8:25am. At least four buses going in your direction pass that way, but you smirk at them, secure in the knowledge that the Veekkay bus that will drop you off right in front of the college gates is coming up. 8:40am comes and goes…then 9. A bald man at the bus stop informs you that the bus you are waiting for has had a puncture and is in the workshop. You fling yourself on the dusty ground and weep.

On Friday, you leave the house at dawn, much to the annoyance of everybody else in the house. Miraculously, you get the bus. Your joy knows no bounds, as you hand a coin to the conductor and say triumphantly, “One ticket to Pappanamcode!”

He gives you an irritated look and says, “Didn’t you read the board before getting in? The route has been changed…this bus now goes to Museum.”

[I came across this piece on my old blog. It was written based on real life incidents in March 2006, in the days before Uber. I tend to dislike most of what I’ve written in the past, but this was an exception.]

 

Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Once upon a time, we were foolish too. Like paying good money to go watch Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani. Or buying toothpaste with salt in it. Or thinking ‘Hey, this Arvind Kejriwal fellow seems to be making sense!’

Older and wiser today, we’ve tried to make prudent life choices, one of them being never to watch more than one Bollywood movie in a year, and then too, only something that is as unBollywood-like as possible. So one year it was Kahani. Another year it was Special 26; then Lunchbox and Piku. We even gave 2 States and English Vinglish the benefit of doubt. The years passed by in this languorous way; Sallu bhai kept making movies in between, but those didn’t touch our lives, except for the occasional grimace we gave as we caught a glimpse of them while channel surfing.

“This is good,” we congratulated each other, “We are watching quality movies, not trash.” We’d already earmarked Kahani 2 for this year and there was no reason to believe our plans would change.

But we had reckoned without the crafty marketing team at Bookmyshow. They appealed to the basest, most primal instinct of us Indians – the love for a good deal. They wooed us with cashbacks and card offers, and convinced us that we could watch one more movie practically for free. The catch? It would have to be before December 1st.

How to use this excellent opportunity? (I mean, we were practically making money on it) We scrolled feverishly through the listings – but we’d already watched everything we wanted to watch.

And that’s how we found ourselves in a cold, dark theatre last night, watching Dear Zindagi.

I’ve clearly woken up this morning with a hangover. Let me try and get it out of my system by randomly putting down everything I feel about the movie. Screw structure and subheadings.

I’ve never been a fan of SRK (like ever, god promise). And I would have thought by this time all the botox would have frozen his facial muscles so that whatever little emoting he used to do would also have become a thing of the past. I went in fully expecting SRK to overact and ham up the show – but he didn’t. In fact, he acted his age, looked perfectly comfortable in the skin of Jug and even managed to not take himself too seriously. It was unsettling, to say the least. Now I can’t hate him with the same heartfelt intensity of old. Gah.

To give ourselves the courage to book tickets to Dear Zindagi, we had to tell each other repeatedly that Alia Bhat is a good actress and Gauri Shinde is a good director. After watching the movie, we’ve changed our stance. Alia Bhat is certainly an excellent actress but Gauri Shinde has a long, long way to go.

Every person is born with the capacity to digest a certain quantum of pontification/gyaan. This has to be used judiciously so that it lasts you through your life. So if you’ve already watched a lot of Aamir Khan movies, from TZP to PK, I’d say you should skip this one. Dr.Jehangir Khan does have one or two cool stories and even gives Kaira sensible advice, but by the last thirty minutes of the movie, you’re impatiently looking at your watch and wishing you had a remote so that you could skip ahead.

Old Bollywood habits die hard and no director, however nobly motivated, is really free of these shackles. So they have to drum things into you and shout in your ear, “Get it? Get it? This is what I mean!” That’s why the movie ends with a new, free Kaira who has

  1. made her short film, the ‘longest project of the century’
  2. garnered the admiration and goodwill of all her ex-boyfriends and the family who used to judge and scorn her
  3. met a new potential soulmate
  4. made peace with her parents
  5. accepted herself for who she is
  6. started creating new memories for herself by playing kabaddi with the samunder.

Every single fucking thread is closed so that nobody in the audience has anything to think about or imagine as they drive back home.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that DZ is not a movie that would make you want to stab yourself (Or the makers. Or bookmyshow) in the throat. But it could have been less self-indulgent, shorter by at least 30 minutes, and definitely, definitely gotten Kunal Kapoor to take off his shirt.

The View From My Window

The View From My Window

An ant crawling up the glass.

The dull grey expanse of sky. No clouds in sight.

The tops of buildings, half-constructed.

A patch of green, rich, tempting, like velvet.

Cars gliding in, cars gliding out.

And huddles of smokers, restless on their feet,

their figures slightly bent, pulled forward by intent.

Even the cars seem sure, so full of purpose,

that I feel life is passing me by,

as I sit here, behind a piece of glass.

But I am mesmerized by the view outside my window.

Hypnotized, like one is by fish tanks and terrariums.

I go back to the pretend games of old.

Turn into a microbiologist, watching fascinated,

a petri dish teeming with life.

At that moment, I am detached from what I see.

I could be an alien instead, so great is my wonder.

Or a boy of twelve in a darkened theater,

staring at a bright, flickering scene.

Or an idler at an exhibition, passing time,

staring at the frames, seeing, yet unseeing.

Knowing inside that it all means something.

But not seeing it, growing uneasy.

My phone rings, my table vibrates.

I feel relief, like a river rushing through my veins.

“Hello?” I say, already loving the caller.

My gaze dragged back to the dark indoors.

My attention my own again.