“Mid-winter spring is it’s own season.*”
So what shall we read when the weather is so alluring? Something clearly curl up-able, something edgy, something new? I’m an everywhere, anytime reader, so here’s what are currently in the loo, next to my computer, on my desktop, by my bed and on the yellow chair in the garden.
Loo – Tehelka
Desktop – The Guardian – Great Poets of the 20th century
Computer – The Shifting Point – Peter Brook
Kitchen – Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi
Chair – Buddha – Vol. 6 Ananda – Osamu Tezuka
Tehelka is a habit. My morning reading of The Guardian is a family joke, but seriously the Great Poets series is lovely, if only to revisit TS Elliot* and Ted Hughes and to read (for me, anyway) Siegfried Sassoon for the first time. Peter Brook is a theatre muse I often return to. But my something new and edgy are the last two.
I thought comics were for babies and that graphic novels were grown up’s name for comics. And am still ambivalent. But I love Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and have since been introduced to the Buddha series by my daughter. Deep, funny and haunting.
Reading Lolita in Tehran is about an academic, Azar Nafisi, defending the cause of literature in Iran during the Islamic revolution. It is interesting to read analogies between Nabakov’s Lolita, and the oppression of citizens in times of political strife. How the simple act of watching Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice in censored, un-subtitled form can so consume a people when their senses have been deprived.
How much we take for granted, no?
Driving to BIAL on Friday, I see a shorn and shaven hillside rising up in front of me, evidence of a mining lobby that is apparently unmoved by monoliths or outlays of the Western Ghats and a political mass that fosters such crassness. Yet, the roadscape is slick, reminiscent of an anonymous foreign country. Somewhere along the road, on the right, one sees fragments from the time of Tippu Sultan, a dry-stacked stone wall and mantappa. But in the scheme of things – the political, spatial and social development of Bangalore - they are dwarfed, less important that the grandeur of the road and airport.
Perhaps one should begin with a litany of the losses.
And then work backwards to configure an equation between all that heritage signifies and all that the loss of heritage unleashes.
Heritage has been defined as the tangible and intangible expressions of a society’s culture that have been passed on from generation to generation and as representative of the “cultural capital and inspirational power of people and communities”. Taken in isolation the word “heritage” is itself often factious because it seems to imply ease and the insouciance of wealth. That it is best left to countries with money to make the argument for heritage conservation since we have enough urban issues on our plate what with public transport, sanitation and garbage disposal. Lazy intellects would even posit heritage against development, as if the two were mutually exclusive. Yet, heritage has everything to do with the way we see ourselves, each other and how we articulate ourselves. More importantly, heritage, especially in the form of public spaces and flora, is beyond individual or state; it serves the larger human community.
Having said this, I understand that heritage is a tough nut to crack. Short of clinging to tradition in a Luddite sense, in a country as diverse as ours, it is crazy to try and chalk out criteria for urban heritage conservancy that is based on age, the subjectivity of aesthetics or monetary value alone. For heritage to be relevant to a city I suspect a more citizen driven, ad hoc and ear-to-the ground approach is called for. For most of us, heritage is a bundle of things that make a city special and that mark the denizens of that city with a uniqueness that fortifies them from within and enables them to live splendidly. It is the value we place on the anachronistic and funky, as also on the historic and traditional. Thus an avenue of Rain trees (Samanae Saman) is as precious as Cash Pharmacy. And the two make sense, because we have the wit and candour to love an old bookshop or an ice-cream parlour. It is the way the glass and chrome of the new multi storied buildings is balanced by the harmony of old bungalows with gardens and jackfruit trees. And so on.
The spaces mentioned earlier were deleted from Bangalore in order to accommodate (no! not low income housing) but new temples to wealth and consumerism. Not to say they didn’t have previous utility, it’s just that in their new avatar, wealth for the individual is magnified exponentially. But rather than lay the blame on the individual, I think we should question our society that is so obsequious and upwardly mobile in its intentions that it constantly shoots itself in the foot in the name of progress. As a people we haven’t cared enough to protect our heritage, have we? We don’t have an urban commission worth mentioning. Certainly not one that has the vision to develop our city in a manner that is gracious or fine. One that has factored in quality of life for everyone. Even Shanghai, the city that Bangalore aspires to be when it grows up, has protected its Soviet neo-classical, communist era architecture alongside its traditional Shikumen residences. Further, this not an argument about tradition versus modernity. The two can co-exist with ease as in Paris, where the French have had the cultural confidence to place the fantastically industrial Centre Georges Pompidou alongside the 16 century Hotel de Ville.
The productivist mantra of the ‘90’s was that people couldn’t “afford” to hold onto their old properties because of the real estate boom in the city. Implying that an old home has no business standing upright since the land value could generate so much more. So much more what, one might well ask. And have we balanced the equation? i.e. does the elimination of heritage spaces on the one hand make us a kinder, more loving, more joyous people on the other? Clearly not, if the daily news is anything to go by. So perhaps it is time to pay heed to the emotional well being of a city. In keening for lost spaces this author is in fact not mourning lime and mortar, but familiar markers, milestones and witnesses. The stuff that solace is made of. Our souls yearn for that intangible cultural heritage, that long continuum of a city’s ancient and contemporary history. We want to be a part of its warp and weft. When my parent’s sold their home, my then four year old daughter cried “You can’t do this, all my memories are here.” So yes, the value of heritage is beyond aesthetics; it also lies in the domain of memory which one could extrapolate to include family, friends, experience and love.
After all Premier Bookshop on Church Street was not about monkey tops or Italian tiles. Yet it represented a common Bangalore heritage of intellectual enquiry, of relationships, of timelessness. In the post-globalization pursuit of homogeneity, Premier Bookshop was the gentle rebel. A small store, a learned bookseller, Proust rubbing shoulders with Ramanujam. By just being there and doing its thing, Premier Bookshop enriched and gladdened Bangalore. Travelers to the city, via Lonely Planet or the grapevine, knew Premier Bookshop the way they knew Koshy’s, MTR or Avenue Road. It was unique and irreplaceable. Maybe the key to heritage lies in that irreplaceable quality. When the value of a space lies in its being and not in its return on investment.
Finally, perhaps we should question our fundamental assumption that any decision taken to further personal wealth is necessarily a good one. I challenge this rationale. And challenge the idea of the inevitability of greed and the indisputability of gain. Surely that is not our raison d’etre on this earth. Let us instead re-investigate the twin notions of cultural capital and the inspirational power of people and communities. We need to shore up our cultural resources as well for us to feel in anyway complete. Therefore the long term impact of prioritizing one public space over another (road over relic, gated community over family home) and eradicating anything that will connect us to memory, while appearing to be practical and pro-development, may hurt us in very subtle ways. Maybe the disappearance of physical manifestations of grace will mark the end of civility for Bangalore.
So do we feel that the loss of heritage is worth getting into a lather about? Antoine de Saint Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, once wrote “A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance.”
I seek that inner distance and feel sure, dear Reader, that you do too.
- Kirtana Kumar in the Sunday Herald 2009
We looked and asked around for yellow Lab girl pup. Several on the phone sounded dicey and spoke in terms of micro chips, show dogs and KCI when all we wanted was a cheerful baby to kiss and muck about with. This went on for a bit to no avail. Then on a fine evening filled with old friends and music, Sharmon said he knew “someone in the office who had Lab pups”. We followed this lead that led to the fattest, darling-est, prettiest furball you ever saw and she was the offspring of the lovely Itisha’s Paris & Deuce Bigalow (yes, yes…Male Gigolo). Except she wasn’t a Lab, she was a Golden Retriever, a minor detail apparently, ‘cause by now we were besotted we so couldn’t see the woods for the trees. Lab, Schmab. A dog by any other name etc. Some brisk googling on Kuki’s part informed us that crossing a Lab with a GR wasn’t a bad idea as the latter were apparently “more intelligent”. Good, good! Bamboo’s honour will be upheld, Laddu’s noble bloodline continued and doggie-depression shall be kept at bay.
Or so innocently we thought.
I should have known, should have had one teensy inkling, on that journey home. She wriggled and wiggled and squealed so much that I worried the auto driver next us at the Cunningham Road lights would think I was Chinese torturing her, so held her up for all to behold much as Mufasa did Simba. See? Fat and Adorable Puppy, that’s all. I thought the drama was because we were strangers and she missed her Mama. How wrong I was! It’s just that she is an independent little miss. And wants her own way all the bloody time. We didn’t name her Princess Mushroom Peaches Mirabella for nothing. Mushroom for short and Mooshoo for shorter. So when we now say “What’s the Brat up to?” everyone knows the One in question is not The Daughter.
The house, peaceful and dignified a week ago, now looks like a bomb shelter on acid. The floors are strewn with puppy debris; a pink sock, 2 soft toys, Bamboo’s old bone, a guitar cable, a pine cone, Hawaii chappals and every single Pretty Thing from my too-low coffee table including a Welsh Kissing Spoon, a snuff box and copy of On the Road. And this doesn’t include the reams of newspaper everywhere to soak up sweet smelling pup-piss. Or the bits of apples and carrots that she is teething on. Oh, and the little stoneware bowl of water and flowers on the too-low coffee table? She stands on said table, drinks the water, flowers glued to her nose and then leaves wet paw prints everywhere.
And yet, we wander about all day in a love-daze, kissing her endlessly, stuffing our noses into her peachy fur and feeding her sliced bananas and curd rice (she is to be brought up a Brahmin Pup, is this one). The other day some newspaper carried an item about stroking dogs, how that’s good for one’s health. Oh, boy… That’s our medical insurance. That, and full body massage.
* One week later…He’s not depressed anymore, I don’t think. He’s just furious. He’s either dead scared of the Precious Pup or dead angry. Either way, it’s a red hot emotion. Kuki says “Just wait for six months, she comes on heat.” But it shouldn’t be just about the sex, should it? Why can’t he let his guard down and go with the flow?
* Ten days later… He’s besotted too and has lost every shred of canine dignity. She’s licking his ear as I write, having jumped all over him, bitten his tail, eaten his breakfast and made him chase her and her rag toy under our bed and through the house. The only hope of discipline lies in Kiara, who every now and again casts a baleful eye over this Creature from Elsewhere and slaps her with a well meaning hiss.
We walked over to Rame Gowda’s farm to see what the elephants had done. Not a lot actually, they’d been quite discreet. A few broken papaya trees and giant footsteps into one paddy field. In at about 2 am and out soon after. The only sure proof they were there – a few lovely, olive balls of elephant dung. The last time he had elephants was about 15 years ago. Rame Gowda's farm is the prettiest thing around. He takes impeccable care of it and is always there - pottering around, ploughing, sowing, cleaning. It is terraced in small multi-leveled pieces, like a jigsaw cum maze. A large, old Jackfruit tree keeps it shady. And then he has the hills closing in on him on his north-west border. Right now he’s trying lowland paddy, so it’s even lovelier – electric green and soft. He borders the fields with orange kanakambara flowers. It feels like a little jewel tucked away quiety and much loved.
On Saturday night I lit tiny lamps on the verandah and we sat out beneath the stars. Away from the light pollution of the city, the Milky Way was visible, a scarf strewn against the night sky.
On Monday morning while the rest headed back to Bangalore, we set off, with Peter and Ina, to Masinagudi. Peter had given Ina a Canon camera for Christmas, so we were ok for documentation! All the pictures in this blog are thanks to Peter and Ina. They took about 800 pictures in India - from crazy traffic in Bangalore to, well, crazy traffic in Masinagudi :)
When Zui was little, soon after we passed the little Hanuman temple and entered Bandipur we would say “Keep your eyes peeled” and one time we noticed that she actually did! So that’s now a family ritual except that Zui is now a Jungle Nazi and won’t let anyone breathe once we enter the sanctuary. She and Mark.
Anyway, we headed slowly to self same Mark Davidar’s Cheetal Walk. Passing all the beloved turns and bends. Strangely there were no herds of deer at the Bandipur Tourist Centre and we wondered about that. Mudhumalai, Theppekadu, Masinagudi township, Bokkapuram, Mavanahalla.
It was about 5.45pm when we made Mark’s turn off. The sun was low as we drove in and then lo and behold! There was a massive tusker in front of his verandah. We had heard earlier about his tuskers – Carlos and Rivaldo, but to think one of them was there on arrival! It was a trip. We just stopped and gaped. Then Mark came out and gestured us in. In seconds we were on the verandah and there, about 8-10 feet away was this majestic wild animal. Watching us, aware. It was scary enough to warrant we stayed close to the doors. Except, that is, for Jungle Nazi Zui who sat on a chair and gazed on bliss. “Back Rivaldo”, said Mark in a normal sounding voice, as he was saying “morning Zui”. And then as it got dark, “Go away now, come tomorrow.” And the 9 ½ foot wild Pachyderm turned away and walked towards the side of the house, stopped a moment, looked back and disappeared into the forest. It was an experience like nothing we’ve known, this liminality. Some sort of poignant meeting between two souls, wrought by years of fostering trust and trying a different sort of communion. What must it mean to communicate so subtly? How unspeakably beautiful. And in what contrast to the vulgar crassness of the forest department bus drivers – honking at a Gaur, yelling at others who have stopped. And in what painful contrast to the general traffic on the Sigur Road – speeding, honking non-stop, some Sabarimalai pilgrims holding flags and even yelling out the window.
That night we heard two massive, really massive, roars. A tiger very close by. Peter and Ina were sleeping in the open attic and Ina was terrified. The next day she told us that she seriously considered sleeping in the loo to keep atleast a little concrete between her and the tiger!
The next day, we drove to Vazhaithottam to pick up idlis and Murugan, Mark’s Man Friday. We sat in Basheer's strawberry pink shop waiting for breakfast to be packed.
In the short time it took us to get back to Mark’s verandah, another elephant walked onto the corridor. We couldn’t tell if it was a tusker – but there it was, rusty red in the morning light. Both the waterholes had cheetal by them and there was a large herd crossing the verandah. Sitting on Mark’s verandah was like being at a wild life traffic crossing. There were peacocks and langurs and wild boar. Then the deer. Then sambar. Then a medium herd of Gaur. At one point, a baby elephant stepped out of the shadows towards the water hole – no other elephants followed, just the little one.
We drove up the hill to Ooty and had lunch at Shinkow’s and then got back to the verandah. Around 5.30pm, a mother bear followed by a little cub walked across the corridor. It just went on and on. And I never get tired of cheetal. How pretty they are and how lovely the play of light on them.
But neither Carlos nor Rivaldo came by this day. Then that night, around 11pm, Zui asked Kuki to make sure the door was shut, so he went to the door and looked out on the verandah… In the velvet darkness, there stood Carlos, swaying gently on the sandy floor before the verandah. Not eating, nothing. Just standing close on hand. In a way this was even more beautiful a sighting. Black on black. The shadow of a wild boar near by and this big elephant just there.
Nothing more to add. Back in the city, I’m holding onto that image. An elephant swaying in the darkness, by the chair of a person who has spent 25 years seated there.
Cooking at the farm has become the only way to cook. Definitely one of life's fine pleasures, up there with swimming in the ocean or cycling to Bear Shola or the nights in Masinagudi. As the sun sets, we drag ourselves away from the verandah and those loud mouthed frogs, open a bottle of wine, get the woodfire started in the oven and settle down at the counter to peel garlic, knead rosemary into the bread dough or make up a batch of scones with pinenuts and raisins.
The first crop we grew was horsegram (ulluvalu) on advice from Yohan, to give the soil a nice nitroenous foundation. It felt like a good omen because Ulluvalu chaaru was one of Paabi’s favourite things to eat. His sister, Shakuntalamma, would make it in Madanapalle and bring it to Bangalore in little jam jars. Paabi would squish it into hot rice and ghee and just love, love, love it! Ulluvalu chaaru was traditionally made with the soup of the horsegram after the cooked grain was fed to the horses. The soup would be boiled down on a woodfire till it was thick and chcocolate brown, tamarind added and finally seasoned with fried onions, red chillies, curry leaves and cumin.
So when we harvested our first bags of ulluvalu, we got a big kick out of it. We even made little packages of horsegram with a recipe for Ulluvalu chaaru and gave it to the cast of The Wedding Party in January of 2008. Oh yes, we also grew ridge gourd/heerekai that first year.
I’ll never forget how delighted we were to see the first baby heerekai’s on their vines. They looked adorable – all green and fuzzy and sweet. The next year we grew Toor dal and Avarekkai and of course this year has been all about the bananas. Nagaraj was long in the tooth about not using any fertilizer or pesticide and grumbled on a daily basis. He was convinced the crop would suffer and all manner of other depressing stuff. But we kicked our heels in with all the naivete of new farmers, planted the bananas in furrows and fed them with cowdung and water and plenty of sunshine. We’ve had a really pretty crop – about 1 and ½ ton – of voluptuous little yelakki bananas, and have learned how to sell them at Hopcoms which is a pretty fantatsic resource. Straight from our jeep to the Hopcoms yard and then on to the Bangalore Club Hopcoms oftentimes!
I’ve also grown tough grasses and hard rooted herbs like rosemary, lemon grass and khus on my bunds to prevent soil erosion.… Let's see how that goes. But it has ensured easily available flavour and fragrance. We make a really refreshing lemon and rosemary tea. Next, I shall experiment with lemon grass ice cream and creme brulee.
But back to the woodfire oven…Everyone loves pizza and it’s ok to cook for about 20 normal people. But when you have 40 mad children who’re all screaming for pizza and who all want Margeritas and will have nothing to do with Blancos…it’s best to have some pasta and salad on stand by. And apple crumble.
I usually make two sauces – a tomato based sauce with plenty of roast garlic, olive oil and shredded basil that’s been thickened and made quite dense with brown sugar. And then my Rosemary-Onion Marmalade that goes on my Blanco – this, I know from experience, is clearly an adult pizza. A simple yeasty pizza dough and plenty of mozarella is all it needs before popping into the woodfire oven for about 8 minutes. I really don’t think you need toppings if your sauce is lovely and fragrant.
Slice about 8 medium onions
Peel one full pod of garlic
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary spikes
Balsamic vingegar or Port
Warm about ¼ cup of olive oil in a deep pan and add the sliced onions and peeled cloves of garlic. Cook slow and long over a medium flame till the onions are starting to brown. Add the rosemary and about 2 tablespoons of sugar. Let it cook further till it’s the consistancy of marmalade. Now add a splash of Balsamic vinegar or Port and cook further. You need to cook the onions for about an hour in all for that perfect flavour. Add salt to taste.