Bangalore | Karnataka

Langford Town From The Back Seat

  A Shop in Langford Town

A Shop in Langford Town

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.

Malnad Diary: Sound And Silence In Coffee Country

 Bangalore (Bengaluru) - Hassan  Highway (NH48)

Bangalore (Bengaluru) - Hassan  Highway (NH48)

The plains from Bangalore to Hassan are sporting fresh vegetation these days: There’s areca now; more wild-neem patches; the coconut groves have expanded with acres of fresh saplings beside older, flourishing crops of tall, mature palms. And I saw plentiful banana. The monsoons have been generous so far this year, and the terrain is glinting and oozing every shade of green.

So I enjoyed the drive to the plantation last weekend.

Beyond Hassan, the coffee belt of Malnad received 20-inches of rain in a single day. On that same day, upon Kadumane’s hills and cusps fell most of heaven’s largesse: 42-inches in 24 hours — a record for them — their tea is twice-blessed.

I mentioned in several posts last year how the rains were holding back, preferring the skies to lowly earth. “Sorry,” they appear to be saying this year.


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Having suffered errant rain ever since the first seven beans of coffee were planted in Malnad, the planter has finally an opportunity to discount the weather and move to other opportunities with which to profit from his land. The vagaries of weather might kill the coffee but they cannot take away the hills of Malnad and the trees on them and, most of all, the absence of the din of the city. So the planters have taken to the homestay hospitality business, and one such startup has sprung within earshot of us.


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Sound travels far and well in Malnad.

Waking at midnight, I thought it was a generator bothering me, perhaps powering a pump to draw water from a tank. But no planter draws water in the night. After sundown the plantation is handed in full to the night, for it to perform its miracles and mysteries with it. It was an unusual sound moreover, droning and grating, rising and falling in a very narrow band, a directionless sound, with no apparent rhythm, distant, and not so loud but enough to be a nuisance through the night. It was without doubt sound created and delivered by machine. I woke several times and it was always the same sound and it was still playing when I got off the bed at my usual time. I waited a courteous while and called the writer (supervisor).

“Where’s the noise from?” I asked.

“It’s coming from …” he told me the name of the plantation, not far, not near, two plantations between us.

“Why is he running a generator in the night?” The noise was still in the air.

“That thing is not a generator, sir,” he said, a trace of amusement coming into his voice, a voice heavy with morning-grog. “It’s music. I called them last night to tell them it’s disturbing us. They wouldn’t answer the phone.”


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A weekend getaway from Bangalore.

On a bare patch on his plantation he pitches tents; he sets up music in a corner, with room for dancing; and sends into the cool night hot chicken and warm roti from his home to the dozens of youngsters who come over Saturdays to dance all night and turn in at breakfast-time and wake for lunch and leave for Bangalore in the afternoon.

I know that planter. I’d gone to his house for some neighborly thing in the early days when I’d bought my plantation. When I left his place his son asked me if I could give him a ride to Ballupet.

He was taking a bus from Ballupet to Bangalore. It’s where he was working, in a rather lowly job for a planter’s son. “I hate it here, uncle,” he’d told me, speaking in Kannada. “Specially in the rainy season. There’s nothing to do here. All day all night the rain will be dripping and the cicada will be sawing.”

It’s the boy who is managing the weekend-party business, I learnt later in the day.


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In sum I’m saying I’m allergic to noise. But the birds showed a greater aversion to it: They were silent like there was an eclipse about them. They couldn’t have slept, of course, and were sulking in the concealments of the branches, and must’ve missed many a worm during the important morning-hunt that is so rich in proverbs.

I smiled for the lucky worms — but only for a moment. The party over, the tents would be free of Bangaloreans Sunday evening. With the night back in the hands of the elements, the usual quiet of Malnad would rule. The worms and other hapless prey like them would come under a vigorous attack at sunup on Monday.


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The Yelahanka Clan And The Mayo Hall Museum

 Statue of Kempegowda at the Mayo Hall Museum, Bangalore

I was the lone visitor. Two ladies manned the door that leads from the porch to the museum upstairs. “There’s nobody inside,” they said. “Repairs. The repair fellow broke his arm. He’s gone home.” There wasn’t a guard even, but that’s all right. The Mayo Hall Museum has no antiquity save the building itself.

There’s one lone artefact in the hall, and it dominates the show. It is a statuette of Kempe Gowda in brass, a lean and wiry Kempegowda in the attire and aspect of a devotee, hands folded and eyes shut in bhakti. A sword dangles from his left shoulder, close to the armpit. The artist exercising his license, I first reckoned. Then I mimed drawing a sword with the scabbard at the armpit. It appeared to work: The scabbard would’ve to be pushed back and gripped under the arm, and the sword pulled forward, instead of clumsily upward.

The second exhibit is a glass-topped map on the floor that you walk about on. Smudged by splashes of light at the time I stood over it, the map proved itself more novel than informative.

The third and last exhibit is a set of flexes that tell the history of Bangalore under the Yelahanka clan. The flexes are mounted on glossy scaffolding that surrounds the statuette of Kempegowda. The museum seeks to memorialise Kempegowda, the unanimously acknowledged founder of Bengaluru — and Kempegowda’s Yelahanka clan, which ruled in this region for 497 years, from 1230 until 1727.


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The first Yelahanka was Devarasagowda. He established himself at the time of the Hoysala, as a vassal to him. In a short time, the last Hoysala fell to the Turk, who stuffed the Hoysala’s carcass with hay and hung it at the gate of the Madurai fort.

Two Yelahankas passed. The fourth Yelahanka was Bhairadeva II. In his time the Vijayanagara empire was nascent, and Bhairadeva II participated in its early growth.

Vijayanagara reached its zenith at the time of the seventh Yelahanka, Kempegowda the Elder. The emperor was Krishnadevaraya, Kempegowda the trusted vassal. Kempegowda asked to establish a new city in his realm, an ambitious mercantile city, and Krishnadevaraya said yes. That city was Bengaluru, equidistant from the sea on the west and the east, on a plateau in jungle country, with even weather all year. The empire was teeming with the finest craftsmen, traders, warriors, mercenaries — every stripe of achiever. Kempegowda invited traders to his new city, built a walled pete for them, and sank wells and built tanks and made Bengaluru a fine place to work and live in. Feeling grateful for his success, he built temples across the city in thanksgiving.

The next two Yelahankas — Kempegowda II and Kempegowda III — furthered the elder’s works.

But Vijayanagara had to see its end, too. Ramaraya, its last ruler, was defeated by a united front of five Bahamani kingdoms. The year was 1563. He was beheaded on the field even as the battle raged, and his severed head was held aloft for all to see. Two-hundred years of a prosperous empire ended with that stroke. The Bahamanis had no wish to rule Vijayanagara. They plundered the place and left.

The empire crumbled and the Yelahanka found himself a sort of sovereign, now surrounded by hostile neighbours hungry to expand. He fought and won and then lost. The Yelahanka was tiring.

The tenth Yelahanka was Kempayya. He was captured in the Savandurga fort by Doddakrishnaraja of neighbouring Mysore, and thrown into the dungeon at Srirangapattana. The base of the dungeon was lower than the riverbed of nearby Kaveri. Kempayya didn’t last long in captivity. He died in 1727. The story of the Yelahankas ends there.


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The origin of Mayo Hall itself begs narration.

We shift our attention to 1872, when Lord Mayo was viceroy, having taken charge in 1869. En route somewhere by sea route, he halted at the Andaman Islands, where the British ran a prison that mostly held political prisoners, among them the vanquished in the 1857 Mutiny.

Mayo went into the prison, where a convict leapt upon him and stabbed him. That convict was Sher Ali, and his motive was to avenge his father who’d fallen in the Anglo-Afghan War. Mayo didn’t deserve punishment for Sher Ali’s tragedy, he appears to have been a decent administrator, the reforming type, an Indophile even, but he was British, and he was viceroy, and so there’s argument favouring Sher Ali as well.

Sher Ali was quickly hanged, and Lord Mayo’s body was shipped to Dublin, where they gave the deceased his due in full.

Meanwhile, in Bengaluru, the British were planning a building to house administrative offices for their cantonment, with room for gatherings. They wished to make the building their best in South India, grand in Greco Roman style. Came news of Mayo’s death and they decided to name the building after him.

Elections Karnataka: Games To The People

 Vidhana Soudha, Bangalore, Karnataka

What happened around me these last days?

The traffic came back. The posters and hoardings showing the faces of our pretty politicians came back. (The use of posters and hoardings for campaigning had been banned.) More posters showing more faces joined them. We got a change of chief minister for our state of Karnataka, but that man — a driven but aged man of 75 — lost the job in two days. He was short of majority support by just so much and resigned ahead of a vote of proof.

On his heels came in another, new chief minister, who always appears jaded, and who accepts every honour given him with exhortations of sorrow (“It’s not with any great happiness that I’ve agreed to be Chief Minister”). He is 57. He might survive in the exalted role for a few months, a year even. It is hard to bet that he’ll last the tenure of five years — he is not sure of that himself, so he toured eleven temples and seven mutts in a mere three days, giving thanks for his lucky turn, but also praying for the gift of a full term.

On Wednesday, leaders of major regional parties from all over India descended on Bangalore to bless the second man at his swearing in. The streets were lined with flexes with their faces on them. The leaders smiled a lot and made friends and announced an alliance that would stop the incumbent prime minister of the nation from returning to power after his term ends in 2019. The development was interesting, not least because the salad the alliance holds forth has spice and flavour from across India, and it would be tossed by many cooks, each with their stubborn inclination. That admixture would compete with the great-great-great-grandmother’s-recipe that the incumbent prime minister has on offer, which has him in power this term. With his opposition thus invigorated, the prime minister would need to now dig deeper into the past, to the kitchens of Lord Rama himself — to the most authentic Indian fare.

I cannot be excited about the emerging menu. I lost my appetite for the political manifesto a long time ago.

I didn’t go to the swearing in. I wasn’t invited. But I passed by the event as it happened because the Vidhana Soudha is a prominent presence on my commute. A gathering of over a hundred thousand had massed outside the building; I could see that in aerial shots broadcast on my iPhone. The crowds had slowed the traffic, but not so much. Most supporters of the new government had come from far off places; they had parked their vehicles outside town and rode the Metro to the Vidhana Soudha.

It rained hard that day, but on the open high ground on which stands the Vidhana Soudha, where the ceremony happened with many of the most prominent politicians of India participating, the rain was shy to touch down, so it sprinkled a small, notional shower — in blessing, some might say. After that, the leaders held hands and raised them high and smiled and talked to best effect before the cameras. Those pictures, taken together, display hope, resolve, and real joy at having been given a chance to fight again.

How hopeful are we, the people? How relieved? I can’t say more than that we’ll be treated to endless games in the days ahead, and the weeks, the months. The spectacle will be free to watch, but we’d be paying a terrible price overall — as though the show was all our idea.

The intimation of the cost to us was given yesterday when the assembly met to confirm the new chief minister. Both sides spat poison (the serpent was mentioned more than once in the vile speeches), promised personal vendettas, and vowed that each party would expend its full energy to undermine the other — to hell with grace, and as regards the people, damn them all. The venom that bathed the once-august hall was thick and sticky.

We’ve been had.


This article is cross-posted on Churumuri.