Sankey's Tank in Bangalore

The Sankey Tank was built by the Englishman Sankey, in 1882. Englishmen sniggered at it thereafter, saying that its putrid water took the second most English lives in Bangalore.

Sankey's Tank, Bangalore, late evening

 

I'm sitting on a bench by the thirty-seven acres of that tank, now cleaned up for a park. A senior citizen has stopped an aged couple. "We are picking coffee now," the couple are telling him. Sankey Tank is on the edge of Sadashivanagar, home to olden-day coffee planters, politicians, and big businessmen. The man in the couple is leaning on a tightly furled umbrella. Lamplight shows up the florals on his woman's caramel-colored sari, and her beaming face. "I used to walk here every day," the single man tells the couple as they part. The woman has a robust gait but she keeps pace with her shuffling husband, the man so old he can't possibly wet his off-white sweatshirt. She will probably unfurl the umbrella for him at the end of the track, where a thousand bats are weaving a black canopy under a blackening sky.

Two kinds of young walk and jog on the cobble-stoned rim of the tank. Those of the rich and the powerful, wearing the Hilfiger kind of gear, cellphone in hand; and the working-class young, in rough-pressed budget-garments, also working their handphones. Most live close by, and are confident as they cross one another. An occasional stroller spits, but travel and television have changed many, and the culprit is glared at, who turns on and away a bland face as a maximum admission to wrongdoing.

The cellphone or the conversation consume all interest. Only a few contemplate the distance where red, blue, and amber lights sink and rise in bobbing water. Few note the shifting kaleidoscopic glimmer on water, signaling a school of fish going somewhere. I cannot tell if the day is beginning or ending for the fish, but the crows are quiet in this their restless hour, when they fly hither and thither to settle affairs to a perfect end. Even after darkness has taken hold, a  restive crow beats black on black.

A shrill whistle blows at seven-thirty. Our city fathers fear that the young, unchecked, would soil a culture the aged have distilled from secret sources. Their fears are printed across the backs of concrete benches round the tank: "Do not put your love on display,' or, "Obscene behavior is punishable by law." On a bench that says "Don't denigrate our culture with your conduct," a girl sidles up to her beau and plants much love on his cheek—the sound rings through the night. "Bravo!" I think, for these young who are releasing and restraining themselves in the safety of lights.

Eight is seriously closing time, and the guard appears, short and reedy like the stick in his hand, and no match for the passion on the benches. But he serves to rouse a shyness, and people rise, reluctantly, from bench after bench, and leave the place for him to fold and keep, to open it again, in the morning at five.