Bangalore, to me, was the inscrutable teenager. A strong whiff of heavy deodorant mixing headily with the oily scent of mint chewing gum. Layered clothing matched with insufferable accents and short, secretive responses. At any given moment, I felt vulnerable – on its streets where I was gaped at like some oddity. How did every single one of Bangalore’s residents know that I was a newcomer? On its public transport, which I was told was very reliable, I was able to demystify the quintessential presence of scarves in dress-code of girls in the city – they were an efficient screen against prying eyes which hungered to feast on their silhouettes. Swathing them into a shapeless mass seemed to be an effective solution, I had seen.
The streets were clean but often graced by bovine animals squatting comfortably on pavements, flicking flies with their tails and chewing cud with an accomplished lethargy as they looked upon passersby with glassy-eyed boredom. A sight that is now rare in rest of India, even in Calcutta, which is always decried for being stuck in the past, was commonplace in Bangalore – the metropolis that housed a mall and two Café Coffee Day outlets on every street worth its salt.
Bangalore was the city that made me paranoid – or alert, if I were to be a little delicate. Listening out for the three words – ‘illa’, ‘kodi’ and ‘maadi’, that comprised my Kannada vocabulary I constantly attempted to decipher directives hurled at me on its buses and streets. It isn’t as if Bangalore does not have enough English-speaking population. But often, this English is heavily accented and difficult to follow. Often, clothed from head-to-toe in a Kannada accent, the English doesn’t resemble English at all and it takes a little training for any foreign ear to be able to recognize it. Like the lisped prattle of children that begins to make sense with growing familiarity.
And with growing familiarity also came the moments that I will remember Bangalore for. The walks on its tree-lined avenues when the sun was setting and a cool breeze was beginning to wave in apologies for the heat of the day. The dusty toddlers who fell asleep on your laps during long bus rides. The chubby autorickshaws with their flared cheekbones and Rajnikanth-worshipping drivers who were always ready to over-charge you but also to offer in return free advice. Bangalore’s gardens and its churches, which are well-kept for such a crowded city. Its weather on the days it was forgiving. Its fruit stalls and juice counters that for once made snacking healthy. Its small temples and shrines with intricately sculpted entrances. Its women who shone with the bright contrast of gold against their fuchsia and turquoise silks and carried with them the lingering smell of jasmine flowers which they never forgot to wear, not unlike their quiet confidence. The very inexpensive retail therapy always on offer, at every bend of the road in Koramangala, and all across Brigade Road and Commercial Street. And the interesting bazaar scenes that were created thanks to these. I will remember the quirky names of its pubs – the Bak Bak Bars and the Boozy Griffins which walked alongside its Moscow Mules.
In its quiet, sunny afternoons, Bangalore afforded me the contemplation I had been missing. Its straight lines and symmetry brought in starker contrast the uncontained, rough edges of my mind. Agitated and seeking some semblance of order, I was able to respect that the present is because the past was. And while I may not have fallen in love with Bangalore, I am happy it is because I have loved other places.