Tag Archives: nostalgia

Bangalore Observations

I had written this over a two years ago almost, while I lived in Bangalore. Life was different then, and one day I just wrote a bunch of random observations down. It was fun to read it today.

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It’s comically incongruous: a rather portly security officer, complete with uniform and shiny shoes and hat and baton and radio. And on his hip, a cute little shiny yellow canister, with even one of those little easy-spray attachments at its head that brings to mind the spray bottles at salons, resting proudly attached to his belt. The combination of somber grey uniform and shiny yellow pepper spray is striking, hard to ignore once noticed. I kept having images of baby canaries, salon treatments, a child’s toy… as my bus moved and he rolled away from my amused view.

Later that evening, I go to the local crowded café to order a takeout dinner. As I stand waiting for my food, I spot an older couple in the rush. He is dressed immaculately, as men that age somehow tend to be. She wears a sweater over a saree that is worn a tad higher than would be by a younger woman. Women over a certain age always tend to wear their sarees higher than I would wear it. They care less about the fall of a garment than the dust and grime on Indian roads. They carry plates of fried rice, and shuffle about the tiny restaurant looking for a place to eat. A certain type of restaurant in Bangalore saves on space and time by not having seats at all, instead having tall tables that are periodically wiped down by grubby boys. Not finding any free space, they stand and hold their plates in one hand and a spoon in the other. I can’t stop observing them, willing some of the younger people to do the right thing and make room. No one does. My sensible quiet voice tells me this is different from being in a crowded train or bus where it’s almost obligatory to give up your seat. Not so here. Still I feel outrage, and realize I cannot see people who remind me of my parents (minus the manner of saree draping) being placed in a less than desirable situation. I am seized with longing about my own parents as I see these two, and filled with affection for two strangers who order fried rice of all things, at a little restaurant with no seating. Within the next minute, my order is thrust into my hand, they find space on a table, and I walk out.

Almost every day of the week, I buy vegetables and fruit at a lovely little shop. The shop keeper and his helper are young men from Kerala, who are unfailingly gracious to me. They speak in broken English and I reply in broken Malayalam, and we are kind to the others’ mistakes as we carry out our daily transactions. They ask after me if I don’t show for two days, they apologize if the prices are higher than average, try to talk me into buying another fruit here, another one there. It’s a lovely ritual that is so common to a regular shopper in India. Then one day, one of them reminds me to bring my Malayalam-speaking mother to the shop when she visits, as I smile yes. And the other wonders if I am married, and my smile slightly freezes as I nod no. Why do I freeze a little bit? I am courteous but offer no detail. Isn’t it strange how we are comfortable enough to breed familiarity with people, but are jolted into slight unease by the most harmless question? Would I have frozen if a similarly educated colleague posed the same question over a coffee in perfect English? What does either answer say about me?

I return home and see my landlord’s father. An old retired gentle, gentle man. He regularly plies me with food and sweets as only Indian elders can do, and repeatedly makes kind offers of assistance should I ever need help. He makes sure to switch on a light on at the entrance to my apartment so I do not stumble in the dark while returning home late. This is also the same man who called out my name from the upper terrace one night. Inside the apartment, all I can hear is the suggestion of my name being called from outside. I go out but see nothing. While all of a sudden I hear my name again from somewhere above me and am startled pretty badly. He wants to know if I am alright. On so many levels, this annoys me. The excessive worrying about someone who can take care of herself perfectly, the insanity of calling to someone from the terrace while they are unsuspectedly inside their apartments, the whole thing baffles. And annoys. And then the next day he hands me a laddoo with a sweet smile, and says “take it”. What is one to do?

But this is exactly it about India and being here. Experiences linger, make a conflicting impression, make you think. They brand themselves onto your senses here, if you pay attention. And all the time, I am made aware of how very thin that line is between affection, distrust, annoyance.. Sometimes I think India thrusts these daily conflicts onto your face, wondering what you will make of it, wondering if you will see the hypocrisy that is rife in everyone’s lives. It can be alternately disconcerting and liberating, depending on the kind of day you’ve had. 

 

 

 

 

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Caesars.

I urge any of you reading this who love me even a little bit: Get me a puppy(I am looking at you, H)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved dogs. I’ve basked in borrowed pride when I was told the stories of my father caring for both a cat and a dog decades earlier. Growing up, I’ve wanted to bring home every puppy I saw on the streets. That this never happened, not once, didn’t deter me one bit. I still look at every pup I see, homeless or not, with a slight wistfulness and wish that I could take it home.

The first dog about whom I heard a bunch of stories was of course, Caesar the first. This was the stray that dad picked up somewhere. Caesar would apparently eat curd rice (he’s definitely not the first Indian dog to do so). He would leave our home when he pleased to loiter about and return when he was hungry. He would run behind my dad every time dad left. He slept in dad’s bed. Hearing many stories about this dog fondly recollected, made a big impression on me. We had a bunch of dogs after that. As a child, I remember Lassie, who gave us five puppies (two were given to the postman and two for us. My brother (I think?) named them Caesar (the second) and Brutus.) The fifth pup I really wanted to keep also, but here my parents drew the line. I had even named him “Roger”, in my optimism that having him named would mean I get to keep him. The gardener took Roger home. Later, we had Caesar the third. I really wanted to name this one “Alex” or “Max”. I remember a pure white puppy with no tail, Simba, that was with us for a very short while. My insistence on these Western names came from my then-preoccupation with Enid Blyton novels (where a Roger always showed up, seems like). I suspect Alex/Max were inspired by some books as well but I do not remember which. Either ways, our gardener (and grandfather-figure to me that I’ve written about previously), Perumal thatha, couldn’t say “Alex” OR “Max” at all. I tried to to teach him these names, but “Alec” and “Mac” were the most he could pronounce in this strange new language. It must have been no small torture to him, having a bossy little girl asking him to repeat “Alex” over and over again. He humored me for a while, but in the end I gave up in the end and we named this puppy Caesar as well. This was also when I realised that every dog we have from now on would be named Caesar.

Cheechu

This Caesar was a little dynamo. He was a scrawny little thing but had a massive amount of energy. His favorite activity involved running circles around me, on our patio, at great speed until I couldn’t follow him with my eyes any more. The little idiot would run and run until he collapsed, exhausted and jubilant, at my feet, waiting to be congratulated. You couldn’t help but be totally conquered by this mad abandon. This absolute and complete surrender. I loved him to bits, and have never experienced such a display of exuberance before or after. When you have a dog, even returning home from the store becomes a matter of great celebration. You are welcomed with such joy, homecomings are never the same after that. He loved grapes, and I would sneak out routinely, feeding him sweet, cold grapes.

My grandmother was scared of dogs. But that changed one night, during Diwali. He was terrified that night, with all the fireworks and noise and smoke around him. He crept underneath chairs and would lie there, trembling, not eating, not moving. None of us knew what to do, and really, there isn’t any way you can muffle the noise that happens during the week of Diwali. Suddenly, he shot up and ran to where my grandmom was seated, and hid under her chair. She was mostly blind by this time, but could tell that there was a scared dog at her feet. She bent down and reached out to him and patted his head. I will confess that though he had never hurt any of us, I was afraid for her that moment. I didn’t know how he might react to her, shaken as he was. But he let her pat him awkwardly for a few moments and she relaxed around him. Perhaps he relaxed too. From that day on, she lost her fear of dogs and would pet him happily every now and then, calling his name again and again. Somehow, he had managed to win over someone with decades of fear for dogs.

It’s more than a decade since this memory. And now we have yet another Caesar. Cheechu. This one was brought home one day by my cousin, a tiny little fawn colored pariah dog that has won my mother’s heart the same way his predecessor won her mother’s heart. He’s five years old now, a strapping dog that hates being left alone, that bristles at the mere sight of someone outside our gates, that goes mad with joy when he sees us all. He’s a beauty.

 

Cheechu
Posing

Sitting here in my apartment in the US, I wish for a dog sometimes. If I do get one, I know that it will be a much different experience from the many dogs I have known back home in India. I don’t know the first thing about caring for one, here, alone. Especially without Perumal thatha who could only say Caesar. But dogs once loved leave a very strong imprint behind. Perhaps the H, who has never had a dog (nor wants one, in honesty) and I will get to share this experience in our future someday.