Finding a city along with a bunch of books..
A man's identity is seldom defined by him alone. It is largely influenced by his tastes, his friends and quite importantly, by his place of stay. The existing social and cultural mores of his place of stay deeply affect the mental and emotional pipelines of an individual. Unsurprisingly, this link that we share with cities and villages has been glorified on numerous occasions by authors and film-makers across the world.I am a metro-man. I have never lived in a village for more than a few months, so I can never relate with the flowing peacefulness of sleepy paddy farms and gushing brooks behind the street. As much as I can love them for their ability to recharge my mind and body, I can never connect and more importantly emote with them on the long term. I love the frenetic pace and hurried lifestyle of the city. I know it's bad for me, but it is the set of cards I was dealt with and I am largely happy about it.
Hence in every metro I have lived in, I try to identify myself with a certain aspect of the city. I try to alienate what I love and hate about that city. This process of 'getting to know' the city underpins my relationship with it and determines how I will remember the city after I have left it. In Chennai, Calcutta and Trichy, I could find that little part of the city and its cultural scene which left a deep mark on my psyche. And last weekend, I decided to search for that connection with my new home - Bangalore.
As with most good things in my life, my search began with The Hindu. Saturday's edition shared a sombre article about a famous Bangalore bookstore 'Page Turners' of Penguin shutting down in December and offering great discounts as a final punch.A s someone who has been concerned with this worrisome trend of 'bookstore deaths' (and blogged about it too!), I wanted to visit this store at least once before it shut doors for good. So after my morning cuppa, I left for a long journey, traversing across the town to reach this store in M. G.Road. The journey reminded me of my first and most frustrating opinion about this city - the transit times. Agreed, I do not stay in a very fortunate place. Office timings demand of me to stay very far away from Bangalore City itself, hence every time I want to visit the City, I need to plan for at least two hours of Travel Buffer zone! While this is undoubtedly an irksome thing, its unavoidable nature makes me try to spend that time in a fruitful manner. I now use these long bus journeys through concrete jungles to catch up on my favorite podcasts or with my reading. Thanks to the luxuriously comfortable A/C buses, these bus journeys provide with a very comfortable setting for some 'alone' time. Hence, I no longer cringe at these long bus rides.
I finally reached M.G.Road after more than one and half hours on two buses and found a place that defied Indian stereotypes. Undoubtedly the most 'happening' few streets of Bangalore, M.G.Road and its adjoining Brigade Road were a sea of tourists and foreigners shopping door to door at stores
boasting the latest international designs and brands. Even though I have traveled and shopped abroad, this exotic scene of international-ness transplanted upon crumbling buildings, garbage on the street and awful traffic, lent a very awkward smell to this scene. But I was star-struck none the less. While these streets do not remind one of the 'Old Money' of Parrys Corner at Chennai or Marine Drive at Mumbai, they did have a very vibrant and pulsating sense to them. One could clearly see the 'New Rich' that Bangalore has incubated as part of its meteoric rise from a sleepy, retirement city into India's Information Age capital. These are people who have broken into the upper echelons of money and status through their education and hard work alone and are eager to show it off!! Amidst this wave of nouveau riche ITians, I could also see the staple images of India - beggars and street dogs. But none the less, M.G.Road and Brigade Road gave me plenty to see and admire.
As I was searching for 'Page Turners', I ran into an old friend - 'Higgin Bothams'. Anyone who has lived in Chennai or has traveled through
Central Station or Meenambakkam Airport, would be familiar with Higgin Bothams.
One of the first and most aristocratic of Chennai book stores, its iconic store
on Mount Road is as much a part of Chennai's important sites catalogue as the
Egmore Museum and Marina Beach. I vividly remember traveling to this store once a year with my
father and my elder sister for our family's annual books purchase. We used to
rack up on a number of books on finance, accounting and such for my father,
Nancy Drews for my sister and some Tinkles for good old me. Higgin Bothams
Bangalore reminded me of its Chennai cousin. It had the same nonchalant, humble
exterior with a disinterested store clerk and dull settings. It this age where
even book stores are demanded of to be 'pimped-up', Higgin Bothams presents a
refreshing sense of disdain at whether you buy a book or not! Very refreshing
I finally found 'Page Turners'. In fact, the store was very crowded! Clearly a number of Bangalorians had read the same article and had shared my enthusiasm. I weaved my way through the crowds and discovered some amazing books! Penguin being one of the largest publication houses, 'Page Turners' had the best titles across all genres! I simply could not help myself and ended up splurging a sizable chunk of my just-received monthly pay!
After my book drive, I resumed my walks through the side roads and gullies. One might wonder why I did not make this trip along with a friend or a bunch of friends. To be honest, I had already visited M.G.Road and Brigade Road on more than one occasion with my friends, but I have this theory that the special bond that one shares with a city can only be found when alone. When you don't have the constant interruption of conversation, thoughts and bantering, your mind tends to explore the surroundings and your senses start to perceive more than the bare minimum. This lends into this ethereal connection that we feel towards any place. To exemplify, when I used to live in Calcutta, I used to take the Metro often by myself to travel to my mom's office near Park Street.
As a middle school student, these trips were very exciting times as I fancied myself to be a 'Big Man' to be allowed to travel alone. After reaching the 'Maidan' Metro Station, just as I used to get out through one of the exits, I used to run into this vendor who sold baked beans, puffed rice and onions in the form of a local delicacy called 'Jaal Muri'. Every time, I used to stop and buy a small pouch of this delicacy and eat it on the way to my mom's office which was a couple of blocks away. To this day, I remember the vivid smell of slightly old onion and masala of the Jaal Muri. It is one of the many images that come to my mind when I recollect my times at Calcutta.
After walking around for a few hours, I decided to travel back home through a circuitous but more fun route! I took the Metro from M.G.Road to Baiyapannahalli. The Namma Metro Project, although a work in progress, should be a source of pride not just for Bangalore but for the whole of India! It is a beautifully maintained mode of transport with a friendly and helpful staff and well thought-out logistics. It was concrete evidence of India finally taking her baby steps towards a superior way of public commutation. One thing which really fascinated me during my Metro ride was the attitude of my co-passengers. Unlike the usual disdain and arrogance with which Indians treat public transport, my co-passengers seemed to regard the Metro with a certain respect, even fear one could say. A father severely reprimanded his son for jumping on the leather seats and trying to pull a poster on the wall and another person even offered his seat for an elderly gent, all very new and unusual scenes in Indian public transport! Although it is early days for Metro Project, I really hope that people continue to maintain this sense of deference towards the Metro.
I finally reached home after another bus ride from Baiyapannahalli. I was tired and my legs were sore from walking for more than four hours but I had come back much wiser about my new home. Bangalore is a really beautiful city. It is a city filled with young people like me, filled to
the brim with ambition and in some cases with compassion. It is a city with money flowing in from all quarters and it is a city which is opening her horizons to the world. It is no longer just the IT Capital of India but also the Youth Capital of India. The infectious sense of optimism and happiness that the young educated Indian possesses is evident in every shopping mall, multiplex and office in this city. It is a city where its hard to be unhappy. Yes it suffers from crippling traffic problems and some law and order concerns, but as with young people, you tend to move on and look beyond these flaws. Bangalore is at the vanguard of a New India, one that is rising with each quarter of positive growth. But I would like to believe that they are not just interesting in piling money, they are also giving back through their money and time! Bangalore newspapers are valiantly pushing for the views of this new class by demanding better garbage-disposal, traffic control and policing from the Municipality, NGOs are flushed with volunteers who are willing to give back on weekends and holidays and finally millions such as me are blogging and documenting about the rise of this city and about the New Indians who are fueling growth so that the rest of India can shrug off its slumber and become a part of this rise.