Bangalore Blue


My nod to nostalgia and Bangalore that once was. In this treasury of  memories , I’m in the company of   some awesome Bangaloreans. Thanks to  my friend, and fellow quiz team meet Stanley Carvalho, I’m now in a book.  Here is the piece I wrote in it.

The Lost Four O’clock Flower
An April afternoon in 2013. A solitary bush of Mirabilis Jalapa awaits the stroke of  four on a vacant lot where a desultory cow lies in the shade of  a Tata Indica.  The majenta buds of the Four o”clock plant , aka Mirabilis Jalapa will soon burst open and meet the afternoon rays of the Bangalore sun as nature has intended  them to.
Mirablis Jalapa. The Four o’ clock flower . Once, they  bloomed in profusion,  bold majenta, brazen yellow, sanctimonious white. Two big brothers playing cricket with friends in a corner of the compound of Mahadev Vilas,  Ratna Vilasa Road. A baby sister posing prettily , dressed in a  knitted jersey, (purple with a row of lavender men dancing at the yoke) and matching cap that had a pom-pom.  As the  60s were hurtling towards the 70s, the  Mirablis Jalapa bush  stood steady, understated. And ubiquitous. A constant backdrop to life’s little milestones.
I  think the sight of the lonesome  Mirabilis  in the summer of 2013 is a sign. The mirabilis jalapa will bloom again, and its translucent pepper seed that nestles preciously at the tip , will bring  back the Bangalore that has been lost..
Six months ago, I obsessed over  this little plant that occupies a little corner  of  my memory’s attic. I looked in all the likely places it could be. But it had vanished,  perhaps even before the last sparrow had  fled the city that no longer wanted it, and didn’t  even noticed it was gone. Like childhood.
When did the mirabilis jalapa leave? And take with it the  lavender buds of the arka,  (calotropis gigantia) whose, plump leaves and poisonous latex dominated  our route to school?  This is where nostalgia meets amnesia,  I think, and suddenly, I know that the sighting of the mirabilis bush is but a nod to the past. To the Bangalore that once was.
Boys played cricket,  and planned khedda operations intended for the imperious granny who  terrorized them. Little girls gamboled about  while their moms sat on a bench by the champak tree, and knitted little jumpers and caps. The little gate that connected Mahadev Vilas and Seeta Bhavan  bore the brunt of heavy traffic as  young boys tramped in an out playing rough games . And the  mirabilis bush  bloomed punctually in its corner watching  Bangalore grow into the seventies, and  forgetting all about the four o’clock flower. It moved over, unprotestingly . The gardens shrank, houses expanded, and   there were no vacant lots for the mirabilis to move into.
The mind wanders into the seventies. Smaller homes on narrow lanes. The denizens of Seventh Cross near Madhavan Park are no longer  thinking of the four o’clock flower and its endearing ways. The cricket pitch-sized compound of Mahadev Vilas has become a memory. A hibiscus bush,  the suji mallige creeper compete for attention with the pink and cream roses, whose thorns are a nasty piece of work.
A rain-kissed morning. As the sun winked over the shoulders of speeding clouds,  school was inescapable, and life, therefore,  intolerable.. Sailing down Seventh Cross came the “five-star” tarkari man on his bicycle, his lusty hawking of“carrot! beans! alugadde, cabbage , seemay badnekai…………..! announcing the arrival of the only vegetable-shop-on-wheels  who ever came to the street.
Mother always acknowledged this “costly”  vegetable vendor’s arrival with mixed feelings. He charged way too much, and wasn’t past playing tricks with the weighing too. But who wanted to trudge to the Jayanagar Complex, only to argue with  a dozen of his kind  who terrorize ?  Just as well  be fleeced in the comfort of one’s home.
By this time,  a few  Seventh Cross maamis ,  thoughts very similar to mother’s jostling in their minds  (  mobile eyebrows that looked like a pair of tiny  cobras   dancing in the vermilion sunset,   can be revealing ) would emerge from their front doors, demanding to be told what outrageous price the fellow was naming for the luscious tomatoes and brinjals.
The tarkari man, apparently preoccupied with    arranging the already perfect pyramids of  vegetables in his  much-used cane basket,  would then begin his little performance, calling out,  ” Come and get it!  Veggies that  Rajkumar- Bharati eat!    Worth every paisa,”  momentarily diverting the women from such mundane matters as vegetable prices.
This was the guy Rajkumar-Bharati  bought veggies from ! That was the secret of their success?!
No sooner than the little performance ended, sans ting-tong that comes at end of  Binaca toothpaste ad on Vividhbharathi, the  eyebrows arched in  surprise and amusement would curl back  into  disapproving frowns, and someone would imperiously tell the guy to get on with business.
Little boys and girls who imagined this to be the best time to wangle a day at home  from impervious  moms,  by tugging at their pallus, ( thus proving  multi-tasking is an embedded feature in moms), a maama whose wife  was away at her parents’ to come back with a little bundle of  joy anytime soon,  the retired grandfather out for his morning walk,  often figured in this picture of  old Bangalore idyll.
Realising soon enough that he was not getting too far in trying to win friends and influence people,  when one of the maamis   acidly queried,”why bother to come here?  Rajkumar-Bharati didn’t buy your veggies today? Are these leftovers? “,  he would pretend that the ladies were driving a hard bargain, and bring the transaction to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.
Rajkumar-Bharati  sold vegetables to Seventh Cross maamis for several months, when suddenly,  Bharathi married Vishnuvardhan, who must  have disapproved of his new’s wife’s moonlighting  job. Anyway, the cycling vegetable-man came calling less often before disappearing altogether . Other non-cycling vendors gave the maamis multiple choices and competitive prices, and  the careers of Rajkumar and Vishnuvardhan the rising star were  tracked through more dependable, and literate sources.
Nanda , Shanti, Uma. . Cinema theatres where we watched Bhakta Kumbara, and wept copious tears over the travails of  the potter of Pandarapur, whom the gods decide to test. The comical antics of  Vishnuvardhan and Dwarakeesh in Kalla Kulla,  a yarn about brothers separated at birth who sing ecstatically about reuniting with their mom……..
In the new millennium, Nanda and Shanti have been bulldozed off  Bangalore’s map. The dependable and familiar have fallen to the tyranny of change.  We used to cross the road from Usha Periamma’s to catch the night-show at Shanti, but now there is a median,  between the new building where Shanti once stood, and shell of the house where Usha Periamma lived. There are traffic jams, schools and colleges, and giant monuments to Bangalore’s new identity as IT city.  It can even turn into a tinder box that can spark a violent riot.
A bar-  restaurant owner decided to name his brand new venture on South End Road “Kargil”.  Someone didn’t like the idea, and flung the first  stone and there was a merry riot, and one’s man’s dream lay vandalised in a matter   of a few hours.
Nanda, Shanti and Uma.  Three cinema houses that  we passed while traveling with no purpose on the BTS bus route no 14. And yes.. The very  one which once boasted  Mr Rajnikanth as conductor.  Father’s little  joke that helped remember them, is quite irrelevant now. But it’s a memory that brings a smile. We had no one to visit in Malleswaram, but the longest bus ride in the city,  at the time, I might add, from terminus to terminus  was filled with  endless possibilities of unbridled entertainment . To get back to Father’s little joke, as the conductor (Was it Rajnikanth, in his Shivaji Rao Gaekwad avatar?) called out “tickets?! Tickets?! A  woman got hers saying “Nanda”. Another said “Shanti” and got a ticket, and the third lady said “Uma”.  When he came to the fourth lady, she  held out the money, saying “Alamelu”.
Humor doesn’t do bus any more. Bus is where an argument between two commuter morphs into a fight. And a rude word suddenly reminds the conductor-driver duo that they can simply pull over, and launch a snap strike. It is the vehicle of choice for those who believe settling them on fire can bring the Government to its knees, or that is the way to mourn  a Rajkumar or Vishnuvardhan.
PS: I wonder if  Shivaji Rao Gaekwad every learnt where Alamelu wanted to get off.
The four o’clock flower’s  persistence in 2013 , I now think, is Bangalore’s last flailing attempt to hold its ground as Bengaluru goes from Bangalore to Babel-ore. Reality grabs me by the ankles when the  Punjabi aunty next door wants to educate your (South Indian) mom on the  secret of making the softest idlis, and that traffic lights turn green in Hindi. Or BMTC buses have hoardings that say- Sabse sastha aur sabse zyaada kahin nahin.
Back then in nostalgia, Dr G.Roy ,   GROY  in our innocence (and in  scant regard for the fullstop) and P.Chatterjee , exotic and enviable as they were,  could only  leap out at us from our history books, or newspapers, not try to grab eyeballs as name-plates on the houses we passed on the way to school. Nostalgia is  when  the phone directory in two volumes- and countless Sens to be scrolled down before finding Sundar S.N.
Ajjis  that made the most divine kodubales can actually be counted in miniscule numbers, on the Endangered Species List.  And you are unlikely to  meet a sparrow in Bangalore for love or money. The aroma of  moolangi  simmering in  the sambhaar doesn’t  waft  from N.R.Colony to Madhavan Park any more .Heck, even the autorickshaw takes more  30 minutes to do the trip . Languid, all-the-time-in-the-world -to -things that-need-doing Bangalore is languid in slow-motion mode, for post-millennial reasons only. Bangalore is now spot-jogging to keep up with itself.
On Facebook, the drama of reunions and regression to past life unfolds at a frenetic pace. There is an urgency to share minutiae – black &white photographs , sepia tinted prints of  old homes that stood lofty and sprawling four decades ago. The vanished gardens and the green monkey-tops that dominated  Bangalore’s landscape, the landmarks that have passed into history as modern monstrosties take their place, try to come alive. I see that the four o’clock flower doesn’t figure in any of them.  The mirabilis I see, now, is  a backdrop to my own memories. My own suddenly remembered memories , dusted  and de-linted by the mere sight of the lonesome bush in the summer of 2013.
Dear little four o’clock flower,  I am so glad to have caught up with you at last.  I see you now,  in the b&w pictures of two big brothers holding their baby sister by her hands. You are in bloom, and I know that it is past four o’clock,  and soon , we won’t be able to hear ourselves think, as the birds come home to roost,  chirping incessantly as they exchange notes on their day.  I know that when I look out of my window tomorrow as the sun hastens westwards, I will neither hear the chirping, nor see your drooping buds spring open in  joy. Yet there you are now, in that  vacant plot, in the company of  a cow flicking its tail at the flies . You do not worry that any time soon, the bulldozer will dredge up the ground on which you stand, and there will be no one to glimpse you and  hurtle into the past where you once bloomed in profusion.