Back and Blue in Bangalore

I’m in Bangalore now, and in this moment at Cafe Noir on the terrace at UB City. I'm drinking their vegan espresso — a shot of espresso with steamed soya.

The guys at the next table are venture capitalists, talking millions and millions of dollars, and of monies lost, and monies that fetched 3x and 2x and 5x returns. Across their small square gray table they're trading — in loud voices -— assessments of business outlook in India and China and America and Europe. They are waiting for another person to join them. Their present task is to offer an exit for a chap in one of their investments, and they've asked him to come at 6:30. It is 5:45 now. "You think he'll take 25?" one asks the other, and they conclude, "He should be fine with 22." That man must be small in their scheme: The two have spoken of a fund of 750 million dollars, a single investment of 360 crore rupees, a startup that’s rocketed to 4000 crores. One of them is a desi American, the other is a Mumbaikar come down for the meeting. The American has stretched his legs, and has manspread one leg into the space beneath my table. He has begun to stamp its heel on the wooden floor. I turn and look at him a moment. A decent man, he seems. His accent suggests he's a born-in-the-USA American.

The numbers begin to get bigger, in the meantime. They're leaning into the future now, looking to invest in every promising sector. These aren't the one percent. They're of the higher, rarer field — the point-one-percent bracket, I bet.

The American isn't stopping stamping his heel. On my part, I’ve stopped writing; I'm reading Don Delillo. Cosmopolis. I cannot concentrate anymore, so I throw a repeat glance at the American who doesn't return it, but I see him sense my eyes. He rests his jiggling feet, and his shaking leg.

"Let's go to my office," the Mumbaikar says. He's read my annoyance. So their office is here in UB City. They rise. And they hold their chairs on top and, instead of tucking them into the tables, they drop them. They are light chairs, and the vibration of their limbs has greater effect than their thud on the floor. My peripheral vision informs me that the American is looking at me. My peripheral attention tells me he's spoiling for an exchange of hostility. I won't play.

Now there's silence, although Cafe Noir is busy in the evenings. My Kindle has my eyes all for itself, but it has almost nothing of my mind, and a good few minutes pass before I resume concentrated reading. But I still have those rich men in mind. Should I have been forgiving a bit? Should I have loosened my grouch as they left?


Such forgiveness I received yesterday at the PVR Cineplex in Forum Mall.

Some ten minutes of the movie were left when the ringing began and I gave a start. Tring! Tring! But I'd switched my phone to silent right after I'd taken my seat. After I’d silenced it, putting my phone in my pocket, I'd looked about to see if the others were doing the same.

The ads and previews were running. I had young people on either side of me, their faces lit by their phones even as they chatted with their buddies. The ones next to me held their devices at a sly slant, but the glare from them got my side-vision all the same. I glanced left and right but none noticed my bristling face. Will they silence their phones and pocket them, or no?

And now my own phone was ringing. No, no, not the phone, I realized in a moment. It was my iWatch that was letting off a high soft ring. I fumbled, tap-tapping on the red on the watch face, and it felt like it rang a hundred times until it obeyed my insistent rapping. My face tingling, I gave furtive looks to either side and checked the rows of heads front of me. Not one stirred from watching the action before them. I’d upset no one.

I reckon some three persons in ten are depressive in my part of the world. But across the rows that I could see that were in earshot, it seemed that everybody was ready enough to ignore a minor annoyance.

The movie was Baby Driver, which had non-stop music vying with the musical noise of speeding motorcars — in Surround Sound. I must tell Sujaya about these people, I thought. It had been she on the phone, I'd stolen off to the movie without telling her, and in the movie hall I'd cut her call.


The book I’ll read next is This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression, by Daphne Merkin. What’s my lot, I must embrace.

Lesson in Crime and Punishment

I decided I’ll go to Haw Par Villa, having never been there in all the years I’ve been going to Singapore.

The brothers Haw (Tiger) and Par (Leopard) were the Tiger Balm entrepreneurs. It was the time of the Empire, and the pair started their business in Rangoon, and came down to Singapore and increased their fortune there. In Singapore the brothers built a mansion on a hill, and that estate in their time and afterward has transformed into a public garden with statues and dioramas that tell stories and parables and aphorisms from the worlds of Tao, Confucius, and the Buddha. The most touted exhibit there is a long man-made cave depicting the Ten Courts of Hell. A sign outside the grotto cautions there's gore inside.

It was blazing hot on the exposed hill; so the enclosed space was inviting. And who doesn’t enjoy gore? Also, I’m at an age where one is keen for hints of the afterlife, and I found them in that dark interior, in neat, dim-lit dioramas.

The virtuous dead have it easy. On arrival at the Courts, they’re split into two classes, somewhat like the gold and silver card holders of airline loyalty programs. The best get on the golden bridge, the next best are routed to the silver bridge, and both bridges offer a quick passage to paradise. The sinful dead are sent on a rough ride. They’re to be dealt with across ten courts, each ruled by its own Yama, its own god of death. When the dead arrive before the Yama and the sins read out, the Yama has a ready list of punishments to hand down.

The prostitute, for instance, is presented before the second Yama. Her punishment is to be drowned in blood. The third Yama's jurisdiction is ungratefulness, disrespect to elders, and escaping from prison. He also tries drug addicts, drug traffickers, tomb robbers, and fomenters of social unrest. He is severe: If you belong here, you could have your heart cut out, or you may be bound to a red-hot copper column and grilled. The fourth Yama tries tax dodgers, rent defaulters, fraudsters and sends them to a stone mallet for a pounding. The sixth Yama takes cheats, those who curse, abductors, misusers of books, patrons of porn, rule breakers, and food wasters, and he saws them in two, or throws them upon a tree of knives. The seventh Yama is named as King Taishan: He pulls out the tongue of rumormongers, and those who sow discord among family. The eighth Yama digs the visceral organs from those who abandon filial obedience, cause trouble for family and cheat in examinations. If you have robbed, murdered, or raped, the ninth Yama will see you. He will have your head and arms chopped off; if you have neglected the old and the young, he will crush you beneath boulders.

It seems that you’re condemned to emerge from each court alive so you’re fit for punishment at the next court. After you have passed the first nine courts a fresh lease awaits you at court ten. Here a lady serves you a potion that erases the past from your mind, and sets you off on a new life, as human or animal, as the tenth Yama sees fit.

I regarded myself. I must prepare for the sixth Yama, and the eighth; I must prepare to crash on a knife-covered tree; must prepare to be sawed in two; must prepare to experience my visceral organs hacked. I haven’t known it was this serious to waste food; I could've been an obedient son. My belly writhes as I write.

These sins and punishments are declared on plaques posted alongside the thick-painted dioramas populated with expertly crafted oriental figurines — a diorama to illustrate each court. Reading the plaques, I wondered first if the Yamas catalogued them in an uncharacteristic fit of humor, and if the entire scheme is all in jest. Later, it struck me that the punishments lacked in imagination — they’re merely torture that man has inflicted on man down the ages. The retributions didn’t appear divine to me; they read like the secret penal code of a despot, ready for administering here and now — even as the sinner in the despot’s book lives. At any rate, I cannot imagine that the Ten Courts of Hell as described in Haw Par belong in the sagely Buddhist scriptures. They’ve perhaps mutated through time and in translation.

Leaving, in the cool of the taxi, the driver asked me, “First time in Singapore?”

“Naw … .” I told him how much I love Singapore, and how often I’m there.

“Foreigners don’t come to Haw Par, la.”

There hadn’t been many locals either. Haw Par Villa seldom made money over the decades when it was a for-profit. It’s a non-profit now, and entrance is free, and I’ve described only one exhibit from the sprawl.

Sounds of Silence

Minutes ago, my wife came home. She’d been to a trade association dinner. She's on the phone since she came in, talking business. Talking, she opened the refrigerator, pulled out a bottle, and tried to open it, all with one hand. The bottle fell, breaking the silence I’d been basking in.

"Need help?" I called from here on the second level. "No," she said from below, not coming off the phone.

I'm in the living room, writing. Until now, only the dogs on the street back of my house have been intruding into this quietude once a half-hour. There's not the sound of a motorcar, or of people talking whilst walking down the street. Or the patter of rain on top.

Bangalore is good these days, after many torrid weeks. The temperatures are around 29°/19°. That’s because it’s raining — but in the way it does in Bangalore — discreetly. The town has turned green, which change strikes me best when I arrive at my workplace, where trees recently planted have gained height and stand like teenager before full-grown across the campus, and their huddles are minor woods with the scent of rain among them.

Bangaloreans reading this may raise the eyebrow. Before they call me out let me admit there’s not been as much rain as we should’ve had. I’m only keeping this post steered toward the good.

While writing I’m distracting myself with the Guardian. And the New York Times. They bring into my microcosm big news of big people. I rather enjoyed it when Obama was in charge, and I welcome anything the tough-but-sweet German leader says or does. But, like with most folks these days, I’m locked into the Trump soap, and although I tell myself every day that Trump is none of my business, even if the climate is changing, the Greatest Nation on Earth won't leave a quiet foreigner alone, even if what it’s got now is Trump. He’s bad for the system, its media says, and shoves him through to my gut.

I read this comment by a certain Musteshfaibnalbitar, below one of the Trump stories in the Guardian:

"While I agree with your analogy, he is not, nor is any American, the leader of the free world. I live in a country that's truly free and he ain't my leader. That so called 'free world' thing is utter bullshit and smacks of the worst kind of 'murican (sic) propaganda."

Someone steeped in liberties would invent a username such as Musteshfaibnalbitar. As regards me, and us in my country, I must admit we're some distance yet from true freedoms. My username is the same as my real name everywhere. But I so agree with Musteshfaibnalbitar.

Trump, Merkel. May, Trudeau, Putin, Boris Johnson. And Tusk and Gorsuch and Corbyn and McConnell and Xi. Comey. These names are crowding my head in my home. I sift big names and mull big happenings when in a coop. Out in the wide, wide world I exult in the small things.

But I like my coop. I write and read here these days, rather than in a cafe, for the silence here. But I forgot to mention that I have an inner noise thanks to a recent onset of tinnitus. The doctor said I must practice to ignore it. I didn’t tell him the affliction is rather like Trump, it knows how to get in, in spite of my best efforts. I need sound to counter the tinnitus. So, and also because the writing was going nowhere, I did other things. It is getting to midnight now, and I watched The House of Cards. Wow. Can that Greatest Nation and its White House keel like in the serial? Now or ever?

There's a siren approaching. Our ambulances used to be shy and timid. The city appears to have fixed that. There’s at this time an occasional roar from the far-off main street — kids doing wheelies. During the Ramzan month just ended, local Muslim leaders realized that a good number from their flock were doing this daredevilry during the night hours. They pointed them out to the police, and urged the rest of their young to not sully their community, during Ramzan in particular.

I’ll go to bed. I cannot do anything now, except look for a Guardian response to yet another Trump tweet. I’m liberal, but I don’t mind him anymore. Rather, I’m anxious for him, he has begun to seem to me like a lead from a Greek tragedy. The climate may correct itself in spite of man, but Trump won’t, and I’m feeling anxiety for him, same as I feel when a play approaches end and tragedy. But, of course, Trump has no care for the concern of an Indian plebeian.

Last Week, In Paris

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The runways at CDG run flat, as they should, among swells of rolling land. The terminals on this wavy terrain are a circular construction. Inside, long travelators running from the gates to immigration fall off first, then run level, and rise back up. In the stretch to the exits, another set of travelators climb steep to the upper level, the belts shaking beneath the feet as they work upward. This airport is different. But then, there's the fact of French achievement in art and architecture, and one develops through repeat visits a taste for this airport, like the drinking type who develop a taste for French wine.

Our first meal was at Cafe St. Andre, where we were served an assiette of vegetables and rice. On subsequent days, at the Cafe Paris on rue Buci, we picked a table inside whereas everybody sat on the sidewalk, and the only vegan we could eke out there was an arabbiatta. A French business partner took us to dinner at Les Editeurs, off St. Germain Boulevard. The color red ruled the place and its walls were lined with hundreds of books. They brought us a bowl of boiled potatoes and artichokes touched by herb and a bowl of thick green cold soup, all of which tasted good with the flavors coming out in full in the rich ambience. A key customer hosted us at Le Procope, where earlier patrons have been Voltaire, Danton, Benjamin Franklin, and such. Here we ate grilled vegetables dosed with herbs and olive oil. Looking later for vegan-focused joints, we were pulled into a nice-looking restaurant on the corner from our hotel, with a view to the Seine. It had large splashes of green on the menu displayed outside. Inside, the handed menu ran several pages, with many organic references, but the only vegan on it was a list of sides: "exotic" rice, mushrooms, french fries, cold quinoa, and beans and thin-sliced carrots. We ordered the entire list, and they arrived in white china, each dish in a bowl and the set of them on a curvy plate — in the fashion of the Indian thali. We ate with the same vigor we approach the thali.

We were in Paris for the Air Show. The show was hot, the weather hotter. On the RER the systems struggled with the cooling but the ride was still okay, whereas on the free shuttle from the RER station to the fairgrounds we received a twice-daily feel of hell. In the morning most folks lined up for the buses, and those who jumped were graciously ignored. The minders sent into each bus a first batch to fill the seating, a second batch for standing, and a final few to fill spaces left. Then making sure the bus had no room for a mouse even, they waved it on and called the next bus. Like this we traveled in universal brotherhood the last mile, black and brown and white and strong and weak and man and woman and rich and poor and Christian and Hindu and Muslim and atheist all pressed together for a torturous half hour for the short jammed distance to the fairgrounds. Everybody seemed to endure the ride with impressive forbearance, steaming people in a sealed bus, working hand phones and speaking in murmurs, doing perhaps what I was doing, being calm outside, cursing within.

Evenings, the western civilization was put to the test. The minders were fewer than in the mornings, and ineffective, their energy drained by the day's heat. Visitors crowded the bus stops at the fairgrounds, many smart ones edging and sneaking through to the front. When the bus arrived people forced their way in, rather like in our India, even if not so badly. One evening, a man behind me, squeezing in with the others, said, "It's happening, it's happening, I'm going to vomit." Did he mean the demise of order and the consequent decline of the evolved west? Grand line, but thoughts like these roiled me in the heat of Paris.

There was time in the week to go about Paris a bit, to watch Parisians enjoy Midsummer's Day on June 21, and listen to music by buskers who'd taken every available public space. Each had an audience, some a half dozen, some even a hundred. While we lingered in Saint Michel the police arrived in six opaque vans. Doors opened and men in blue jumped out and took positions under the trees, by the bus stops, at the fountains, and whereas the men with rifles gazed with detached eyes, assessing but not engaging anyone, their other colleagues stood by the vans, alert to calls to action. When I passed a van by a drinking fountain, a youngish policeman broke into a gig, lured by the Afro drummers before him.

The most important thing, for me, is that I went to the Louvre, and went straight to the Denon wing, to the gallery of Italian paintings, to the Mona Lisa. There was a constant throng before the lady, but I could stand undisturbed on the periphery to her left and gaze. She did not disappoint, holding her composure and being herself in spite of this daily assault by the thousands, by some who look, and some who look and shoot, and others who come to shoot only. A blue phosphorescence issued from her direction, and through it she returned and outlasted my gaze. I'm shaken by her still.

Death by the Trunk of an Elephant

Photo by bugphai/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by bugphai/iStock / Getty Images

It happened last week. A planter died by the trunk of an elephant. Unconscious after he was flung by it, his body fought all night to live. Folks from the village and his kin took him first to the taluk hospital and then to the district hospital, but several of his internals had expired already, crushed when he’d smashed into the ground. There are witnesses and they have no differing accounts — and they’re unanimous in regard to who is to blame.

Such a death as this everybody had been anticipating for some time now, with the very human conviction that somebody would go like this, somebody but them. Everybody was proved right, all but one who was 40 years old, owner of the plantation right next to ours on our east with a stream for a boundary between his place and ours. He wouldn’t have been the one if he hadn’t stopped his car after he’d passed the elephants, if he hadn’t got out and walked back 100 meters in the dark of eleven to watch what they were up to.

The planation that neighbours ours on the west goes by the name of its previous owner, although she sold it some time ago, and a new, Bangalore-based owner tends it. Mala's Thota, people call the property, which means Mala's plantation. A state highway running down to Coorg marks Mala's Thota's western boundary. Across that highway there's the sprawl of the 500-acre IBC plantation, a smaller holding among many that IBC owns.

The night we're speaking of, some eight elephants came waddling through the IBC plantation, and when they reached the highway, paused before the sparse traffic before crossing over to Mala's Thota. While they waited for a safe moment a female in the herd went into labour. The herd circled her, the males looking outward and ready to defend. The female's heaving brought them onto the road a bit, causing vehicular traffic to coalesce, and move in a slow, respectful stream. The elephants slipped and slid on the roadside while making room for trucks and buses, not seeming to mind the inconvenience. In the meantime the female delivered, and the baby began to receive its first ministrations. Two hours later, the herd had still not moved, and villagers from the Hydur village a few minutes away had gathered to look, inhaling the drama, savoring the truce between man and untamed beast.

Folks in these parts have been experiencing the elephant every day: Water tanks whose embankments have collapsed under the weight of elephants bathing; fences and coffee plants trampled down; trees humbled and bent to the ground; trees uprooted and tossed about; whole coffee patches laid waste in a game conceived for the toddler elephant; heaps of fresh dung here and there with bright white mushrooms sprouting on them; deep round footmarks everywhere; and, of course, the stories.

Every day, the aged priest at the small Shiva temple on our plantation goes down the slope from the shrine and fetches a pitcher of water from a spring there. A few months ago, he heard a rustle among the mist-enveloped coffee and seeing what had caused it, he ran back to the temple with all the speed his bony legs could give him. He was still shaken two weeks later. "Just ten feet from me, anna!" Basavanna, who is a respected planter and who manages our property for us, was driving back after an evening at the Planters Club, and he saw elephant silhouettes at the far end among silver oaks. He halted to gauge the danger, but his wife hissed, "Drive, drive!" Puzzled, Basavanna looked about. A single elephant stood brooding some ten yards away, his outline showing in the foliage. His panicked heart and feet and his Pajero shot him out to safety. Then there was the incident of a girl who was chased down to Malegalale village. She ran fast enough to reach her home at the edge of the village. Perhaps the elephant was playing a chase. The elephant circled round a spot a few times, shaking his jowly body, and went back up the slope.

It has been a long time since the elephant lost its titles to these lands. But it has its memory and cannot help feeling ownership of these hills that were once jungle and are now human plantations and human playgrounds. It is making its last stand.

At eleven the herd was still at the roadside, allowing traffic to pass, nodding and swinging heads, jiggling bellies and backsides, waving trunks. The planter of this story drove past them and halted. He climbed out of his car and walked back to the spectacle of elephants in possession of a newborn. The planter admonished the villagers to stand back, warned them of the dangers in scaring a beast with baby. Then he pulled his phone from his pocket and began to shoot and, soon engrossed, crossed his own line. A male from the herd detached itself and came over to him in no great hurry, but full of fury.

Two days ago, on Friday, his family performed final rites for him.

The Writer's Sharp Tool

I’m not writing about the writer who writes. This post is about the supervisors on our coffee plantation. The British in their time in India called the plantation supervisor a writer, because besides his duties among the coffee plants and the shade trees, he kept petty accounts and the muster roll. Native planters have stayed with the practice.

After eight years, Ravi is no more our writer. He left us in April, a friendly separation prompted by the completion of construction of his own home north of Sakleshpur — we’re at four o’clock from it. His departure was quiet, and although there was a little drama (he touched my feet for blessings, and wept and embarrassed me and himself) the theatrics were no match for the near-weekly crises at the start of his tenure with us.

For instance, I’ve recorded in this journal the incident when Ravi chased a neighbour’s cow out our eastern gate. With complete disregard to who owned the deeds, the cow had trespassed into our coffee patches through our western gate. Tracing the cow after dark, mad as hell that a mere writer had affronted him thus, that planter quarrelled with Ravi and in the altercation planted his foot on Ravi’s chest. It took some time to set minds straight in this case. Another time, Ravi called us in Bangalore in the night, saying four gunmen had been sighted on our plantation, by an old lady from another plantation's labour line, and nobody had seen them leave, and the old lady had overheard that their purpose was to finish off Ravi. We had to commandeer security for him from Bangalore that night, from some two-hundred kilometres out east. The gunmen have remained a mystery, and he and we and the reclusive local police and all others whom we had involved in the affair have never once mentioned the matter after the incident.

These excitements ceased after we appointed a respected planter, Basavanna, to manage our property. We visit there once monthly, and we skip when our real business, that which puts bread on our table, gets thick in the city or when it pushes us to travel. The plantation is now a sober, dull place, save for the elephants that have been felling our fences and stamping down the coffee plants. We’ve not had the luck to see the herds that come. When we arrive, we are only treated to the sight of their fibrous football-size droppings, barbed wire broken north, east, and west, and violated coffee patches.

The new writer is Nataraj, who is much older than Ravi. When he came asking for the job, the picking of Arabica and Robusta had all been done, the borer-infected coffee stems had been pulled out and burned, and fertilising and pruning works were in progress. There isn't a free month in the year that it takes for coffee to blossom and ripen and become good-to-pick beans. Over the month that has passed since Nataraj joined we’re worrying if he is too laid back to be able to manage the plantation. Ravi wouldn’t be still for a second. Not that he used all his energy for the allotted job, Basavanna always used to say, but that matter is for another post.

"Why did you leave?" I asked Natarj. He was a senior writer on a 500-acre plantation owned by a big builder in Bangalore.

"When I joined them there weren't two coffee plants in their place. Everything on it I planted," he said.

I nodded. "Right. Why did you leave?"

"My son is working with the owner's company in Bangalore. The owner trusted me fully. He'd come once a month. Then he was coming at all. He'd left everything to me.”

I nodded again, allowing him to forget his superiors in that place. We were on the verandah. Out in the yard the bougainvillea were flourishing on the coconut palms they’d been trained on. They were blazing, flashing colour that they’d gained in excess heat and light, whereas the coffee leaves out in their patches were wrinkled and drooping and altogether disillusioned with the promised rains that were just not coming. Before me, Nagaraj was sweating.

"Now he's appointed a new manager. He trusts that man more nowadays."

I kept on nodding. Only, I slowed it, like folks do when they turn contemplative.

“That man doesn't know anything. He has brought along a young writer. About me, he complained to the owner that I threatened him with a machchu. “

I raised my brow. And tried to imagine this middle-aged man raising a machete.

"The writer goes about with a machchu like how other people go about with a pen. When the manager stopped me to speak with me I had the machchu in hand. The hand moves when you talk. The machchu moves with the hand. The manager took a video of me and my machchu on his phone and showed it to the owner. I didn't realise that the voppa was taking my video."

"Didn't you explain all this to the owner?"

Nataraj paused a long time. I tried to read the truth from his face, from its liquid lines and its shiny saggy pouches. A grandfather’s face. A face capable of anger, it seemed. Rage, even.

“The owner hasn't come here. Anyway, he trusts his manager more. After so many years. There were no more than two plants in the place when I joined.“

He didn't tell if he quit or if he was asked to go. I didn’t press to know. Rather, I asked him to report the following month. He's been all right the weeks since he joined, but I'm thinking that he is a perhaps a little slow.

"Let's give him time," Basavanna said when we discussed him last week in the wet world that’s now upon us, the monsoons having finally arrived.

“I was thinking the same,” I said.

Picture This

Photo by ClaireMcAdams/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by ClaireMcAdams/iStock / Getty Images

Picture this. On the ground floor of the house across the street from your home lives a couple with one child, a son, who is away abroad for most of the year. His parents send him on jaunts to Europe so he may soothe there his manic mind, which bursts to the fore soon as he’s back in town. He screams demands and yells accusations of which their neighbours can hear every bit.

On the first floor of their house live their tenants, where the parents have two daughters, the elder of whom declares war on her father roughly twice monthly, and she is so scathing in her abuse that he can check himself only a short while before he begins his returns, loud but weak, and after a half-hour of taking the overwhelming oral beating he walks out and drives away and you hear only silence from behind the thick foliage where their house is. The silence holds until next time. That father, an artist, has enjoyed years of fame, and though he's out of public view these days, these spats within earshot of so many people would be hard for him to bear. Whether it's the father who suffers more, or the daughter, you cannot tell.

Picture this. The folks in the ivy-clad house six houses down the street live in Europe almost all months of the year, even in winter, and they are very successful doctors, but the bigger success in the family is the daughter, who is a constitutional lawyer, a lawyer making a name in Europe, but she's steeped in acute depression that she manages to keep secret where she works. She has a psychiatrist for a mother. You see the mother when she visits, only the mother not the daughter, and you see the wash of the daughter's suffering over the mother's face.

Also picture this. The daughter of the family on the corner of your street is an accomplished singer who has given classical performances across the nation, but she was brought down by in-laws resentful of her public shows, and she sings no more now, and has returned to her parents and retired at a young age to silence and to days of walking her little boy up and down the street.

That's four families among five that you know on your street, along which stand some thirty other houses each with its own public and private stories. Consider now the man in the other home that you know, some distance up the street, and hold that man who happens to be your age and is holed up in his house, and yourself, to honest light, that lone dull light that is all the light you’ve been able to access lately.

You have considered all six of six, and you have a statistic that is a match with this monsoon morning in June.

This Mind and the Monsoon

Photo by Maxiphoto/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Maxiphoto/iStock / Getty Images

I am carrying a torch with me mornings these days when I step out at 5:00. The light breaks by 5:30, but until then I've to be sure no tree has been yanked of its branches overnight. At the start of the week an entire tree had fallen before Karle's house, and I couldn't pass it through its left part or its right part or through its middle. To be honest I did try to pierce the right and I went under the branches through the foliage that glistened before my torchlight, and fear came upon me of snakes shaken by the events of the night, by thunder and lighting and buildings resonating with terrible sound, and I was sure any snake would be in a rotten mood, and that even a non-venomous snake would've obtained some poison to deliver into a hapless morning walker. With such thoughts rising I leapt back and did an about turn and took an alternate route. I'm embarrassed to say it, but that's what I did, and I must admit it now when I can, because someday this blog might be read by hundreds of thousands, and I'd no more be able to reveal these things about me.

It rained just like that last night and it felt like our roof was being flayed of everything on it but in the morning we saw that all that had happened was that the coupling between a section of solar panels had come loose. The water storage and the grills and the Mangalore-tiled pavilion and everything else had been pushed and pulled as by giant hands, but they'd all held. The house has survived a week's pounding by the elements, and I should send a letter of thanks to the contractor who built it fourteen years ago, but I'll probably not, and that's another story.

And today, just now, as I started to write this post, it started to rain to the accompaniment of thunder. A big bang went off a short distance away, clearly the transformer that serves our neighbourhood has blown, and the lights have gone. I'm reclined in the comfort of a spacious but hemmed-in living room, with windows only in the outer rooms. I cannot see the play of lightning, I can only wonder at the sure wondrousness of it, and at the low great rumble that appears to have decided to stay with us this time round. As like in a chorus, the waters falling from the already full gutters round the house are giving depth and body to the drama. It is rather nice, this mix of the dark and the damp and a growing chill and the unnerving action, and in the net my spirits should rise. They've been so down. (We'll keep this too under wraps when I become famous, dear few readers of this blog.)

Oh yes. It's to raise your spirits that the monsoons come.

Weddings Without Bells and Whistles, Romerberg, Frankfurt

The wedding party appeared positively Muslim, folks from the Middle East. The women wore the hijab, and the men wore both casual and serious western. They were gathered and waiting in Romerberg, for the bride and groom. A black limo brought them into the cobblestone yard of this old and historic part of Frankfurt, and delivered the bride in flowing billowing whites, and the groom in glossy black. Her teeth dazzled in a frame of supple red lips; he was in fine trim and his suit sat neatly over his sleek sturdy frame. The two young things clearly belonged in blood to the flock round them, but they were dressed as if for a Christian wedding. Within minutes after they arrived the church/registry door flung open and a prior wedding party poured out of it, with the priest/registrar at their rear. In black gown and black hat, standing tall and a looking somewhat groggy at his portal, the priest/registrar raised high his hand and bid the next party come in.

The party that came out lingered before the triple doors of the building. The air was crisp, and the bride from this group hugged herself tight with her bare arms. She asked for a cigarette and it was given her lit and ready to smoke. She shook off the chill with a vigorous shake and took deep drags and exhaled a long time something deep that troubled her and showed in her dark eyes. She was disbelieving of what she’d just gone and done, it seemed to me, please forgive me for saying so. After a while she began to speak with her group, which appeared Caucasian. Unlike the first bride I saw, this one was dressed short, and tight, and young men back of her took glancing note of her outstanding gluteals.

Tourists in the square shot and shot again the serial nuptials with handphones and with proper cameras. A man handed me his DSLR and asked if I’d take his picture with the bride and groom, and put himself between them. The two were quick to oblige and leaned into him into a comely pose, and held out nice wide smiles. I loitered for a while afterward, trying to get a couple of good pictures for myself, but service vans and building gear and some renovation equipment round the central statue in the square made it near-impossible to frame a good shot. A third party arrived and grouped into formation to enter the church/registry, which the Middle East party had just vacated.

I wished to see how the Middle Eastern lady's vows had affected her, but I decided instead to hunt for some Americano. I hadn’t taken in all of the square, hadn’t absorbed the tall buildings with their steep roofs and high narrow façades and the repeating criss-cross of lines over their face. An elusive sun had broken on them in the moment. But I had to have a coffee.

I’m full-blood Indian, and a thin wind was skimming off the cobblestones and getting under my made-for-the-tropics skin. I needed to drink that coffee in a thick cozy interior, in spite of the golden light in the square, a warm muted light the likes of which we don't have at home. Also, it was a light that brought no heat with it.

"I'll come back," I told myself.

Bangalore, Open Only for Business

From the last row, we watched the hall fill up. Every kind of face came up and took their seat, North Indian faces and South Indian faces and Eastern Indians and Western Indians, and I remarked to my wife: "Not bad for a Farsi film. It's in its second week and it is going full-house." I turned and looked checked her face, to see if she was feeling the same pride in Bangalore as I, pride in belonging to a cosmopolitan city.

She laughed after a moment's pause. "Can't tell," she said. "They must've mistaken this for a heavy business-management film!"

My wife is not shy to declare to me at least once daily: "I'm always right." It's the proud Gowda blood in her. In silence I pondered her jesty remark and searched for truths in it.

At the end of the show we told each other it was a very good film. The Salesman is my wife's first Asghar Farahadi film; I have watched two others of his.


That morning, we'd been with a saleswoman from a realtor company, looking up a posh mock-up apartment of a condominium complex that has sprouted at the edge of the town centre. The mock-up was furnished and ready for life in it right away, if only the saleswoman would allow it. Next to the kitchen (appliances by Miele and such) in a soft-lit room the dining table had thick, rich, and glossy and definitely-not-Indian tableware on it. There wasn't the smell of cooking, of course, but the place was still appetising. The bedrooms and the living room had decks out to a lawn, but in the real building the decks would be high over the twenty-first floor, looking out into dingy Bangalore below. The floors until the twenty-first are for a luxe hotel.

The home shone much like the clear, many-hued eyes of the saleswoman. She didn't push the sale and so she further heightened our interest in the property. I had a question, though: "What kind of people are buying these apartments?"

"We have people from Bombay, from Karnataka, some NRIs, owners of large family-businesses, investment bankers — very fine people have taken our property."

Not a film director, or painter, or writer, or actor.


In the cafes in Bangalore my misfortune has been that the next table is always taken by dour men doing real estate deals. Most times, the scene is of men in starched whites looking on in silence, watching their men tackle potential sellers who're full of doubt that they're being had. Other times, a buyer boasts how he is crowding out a stubborn landowner, and gives every detail on how a hapless someone is being bullied out of a precious possession. I’ve also listened in on deals where all parties are happy with the process and the outcome. Still, they’re all an uninspiring backdrop for one trying to read and write in the cafe, and who'd be happy with just the plain buzz and hum of society.

But there are occasions when some bright-faced youngsters with dark shiny eyes like Mowgli’s have crowded round tables too small for the number of them, and they're tossing startup ideas, and their youthful voices ring out pluck and confidence and hope and knowledge and knowhow. Most startups fail, that's the rule, but there's no fear of failure in those shiny eyes.

I wish to hear folks discussing ideas for a play, for a film, for a book, for a painting or a sculpture or a song. Where in Bangalore are they meeting? Is the literary and cultural output of this flourishing city commensurate with its population of over ten million? We're throwing up more billionaires here than authors of great books.


In the meantime the heat is rising, a consequence of the spurt in construction, and the thick curdling traffic in the streets. Crawling in the streets you realise that it might take some time yet for Bangalore to produce good art and writing, because how can creative output emerge in a place where there's no walking room for the artist? Since the boom in business began, the number of motor vehicles mushroomed and the pavements shrank. Ours is not a city for walkers. As regards me, who cannot say I'm creative, but still needs to walk so as to tend depression in the mind and diabetes in the body, I leave home for a walk at five in the morning. These days there's the smell of sap from the fallen and squished yellow tabebuia, which is not as pleasant as the aromatic honge flowers which lay thick on the streets and lingered there until only a few days ago. There was a good-size moon in the sky this morning, and a steady breeze, but my shirt stuck to my sweating back, the ground below having not yet sloughed off heat from yesterday's sun. Only a few minutes were left for today’s onslaught. Summer is serious this year, it seems.


I'm doing what I can to make Bangalore bearable for myself. I'm reading a big book set in New York — A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara.