You enter Langford Town at the complex of the old graveyards, existing from colonial times, a good expanse of them, parceled out to a couple of Christian faiths, Hindus, the Shia Moslems, the Sunni Muslims. The street you enter is Berlie Street, which starts wide and begins to narrow, inching inward as you progress, and you fret at horns that blare demanding overtaking room when there’s no room to give. Berlie Street is the longest street in Langford Town, embracing a half of it in a U-shape.
The other streets in Langford Town bear their old names as well: Alexandria Street. Bride Street. Rose lane. Walker Lane. Norris Road. Curley Street. Names suggesting decent beginnings, diminished now, and one would think a neighborhood with street-names like these would have at the least one nice bakery, one cozy cafe, one cute restaurant. I haven’t seen any but a florist, and a dealer in antiques whose wares seem more like riffraff from broken homes, but I experience Bangalore mostly in the back seat of my car, casting occasional glances at it. It might be that Langford Town prefers to be private, with least visitors, for fear that a busybody might apply himself to renaming their streets, localizing them, altering their character.
Langford Town falls in the Shantinagar constituency whose elected representative is N.A Harris, a third-term Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). As is in vogue in Bangalore for many years now, posters bearing the face of Haris ornament the streets in his domain. His is among the better faces: there are faces of other leaders that are regularly hoisted across the city, most of them murky and suggestive of no good intentions — you wouldn’t want your child to see them. The posters wish, at various times, happy birthday to the MLA, greetings from the MLA to his electorate for Eid, Easter, Sankranti, Pongal, Deepavali, Christmas. It’s all a vigorous and successful onslaught to burn Haris into our psyche.
Haris is not bad, even if Langford Town could be better. On the eve of elections an NGO rated him the best-performing MLA in Bangalore, which has 28 MLAs. Speaking for myself, I’ve been able to bear his posters without too much animus — complaining only occasionally to my wife next to me in the car that Haris foists himself to an excess upon his electorate.
I like the faces I see in the flesh in Langford Town: Tibetan, Northeast Indian, North Indian, South Indian. People from all faiths have tucked themselves into this tight little neighborhood: Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, Christian, Jain. A little black statue of Ambedkar in a square there attests to the presence of the vulnerable Hindus. The neighborhood lacks spaces, there’s no parking room at all, but there’s charm in the diversity of the people of Langford Town.
A Christian neighbor in Rajmahal Vilas, where I live, told me once: “You work at Electronics City? You pass through Brigade Road, then. You know the Shantinagar MLA? Haris! Handsome man, you know. Dynamic. We meet often at the Catholic Club …”
These recent rain-soaked days, Haris has multiplied significantly his posters. He is asserting himself, because there’s a new government in our province, and some ministerial posts have yet to be filled. As a third-term MLA, Haris feels entitled to a berth, and he is flexing muscle, which a recent incident had cramped for a while.
It happened a few weeks ahead of the elections. It happened with Haris’s son who went with his friends to a cafe at eleven at night. Haris’s son’s leg scraped another customer’s outstretched limb. The customer asked Haris’s son to take care: He had a broken leg, it was in a cast, and the man had rested it across the seat before him.
Haris’s son didn’t like to be asked to take care — he is the son of a very important man, after all. What happened afterwards is widely reported. Let me say it was all big news, and although Haris’s smile didn’t fade on his posters, it put the formidable man’s chances of even running for elections in doubt. But Haris prevailed. He ran, he won, and is now reaching for a bigger prize.
Bold and resilient, he now has his son’s face on every one of his posters. The biggest face on the posters is Haris’s. The next biggest is his son’s. Per protocol. Then there the other faces, smaller, of men who tend to Haris’s muscles, keep them strong, ease the occasional cramp.
It helps Haris that his son has looks that compete with his: lanky body, loping gait, a trimmed beard on an oval face that is in keeping with his lean frame, eyes behind sleek sunglasses, and a white smile. If I commute a few more years more through this neighborhood, I might well be treated every workday to Haris’s son’s face, succeeding Haris’s.