Who Is Bangalore?

For the sublime and the beautiful and the interesting, you don’t have to look far away. You have to know how to see.

Hedda Sterne

A few days into the new year, when my husband and I had had enough of social distancing or should I say social isolation, and we were done obsessing over masking up and coronavirus, we started to invite a few friends over for a cup of tea. We talked for a long time every time, the way people starved for conversation do,  and eventually we got to the subject Bangaloreans can’t avoid: Bangalore. We were talking about how the beauty of this place is subtle.

BLR VS.DEL VS.HYD VS.MAA VS. BOM

“Bangalore is very simple,’’ one of our friends said. “If you want Grand, you need to go north to Delhi or east to Hyderabad or something.” People in both those cities look down upon anyone who isn’t wearing or flaunting some designer label or driving a luxury car. In Delhi, there’s a definite winter wardrobe and no one can repeat their outfits anytime of the year especially so during weddings and other social events. Ever. Cos then you are just ‘poor’. And no one wants to be that. ‘Delhi safety’ of course is an oxymoron – a nightmarish place to live for anyone of any gender or age. Enough said! 

In Bangalore, there is no class distinction – we are a city of simpletons. In fact, any garish display of wealth is looked down upon as immature.

I mean look at our local IT maven Narayana Murthy – last I checked, he’s still living in his pre-Infosys humble south Bangalore home after achieving global superstardom. I grew up in a kannadiga family and my grandmother treated her house maid as her friend, sharing things with her like two friends would, eating together and inviting her family to all our family events even years after she stopped working for us. And vice versa. Lakshmidevamma our maid, I thought was a family member throughout childhood. I really love that most Bangaloreans respect people for who they are irrespective of how much money they make. We can strike up conversations with anyone and be sure that it’ll be pleasant. Except conversations with auto drivers – those invariably end up with you paying double or triple the fare.  

In Bangalore, you could relax, wear what you want, feel safe, live simply, and most of all – learn to really pay attention, to track subtle changes in your surroundings, to look up from your mobiles and search for beauty.

It’s not like a Las Vegas casino where it’s going to hit you over the head with, ‘Look how majestic I am’. It’s Bangalore, Karnataka. That beauty is there and that majesty is there, but it’s a thing that you have to learn to recognize. Once you learn to recognize it, you see it everywhere. 

And it’s not what you look at that matters, but what you see.

I was born here and grew up here, and now I live here by choice. No place like home and no place like Bangalore!

You know how Bangalorean you are based on how mad you get when people badmouth Bangalore. I couldn’t believe how much I was seething when one of my Bombay-based in-laws came over for a visit and wouldn’t stop talking about how bad the traffic here is. (As if the traffic in Mumbai is any better, at least we can use our cars and bikes here still. Hello! If you hate it so much – go back! Pshaw! (I didn’t say it but I wanted to))

Here is what I love most about Bangalore: It has taught me how to find beauty. How, even sitting in traffic, you can really see the huge trees sway in the breeze, watch flowers, birds, cute couples, cart vendors, shiny snazzy stores, beggars even and that animated fight over hitting someone’s car bumper. And in the midst of it all – it starts to rain and a rainy playlist starts to play on the car FM Radio and I start craving for Masala Puri and then masala dosa but will happily have both.

How, without traffic, you can really hear the crows cawing in the frozen, silent air. How, without electricity, you get to spend time bonding with your family under candlelight. 

Even now, staying indoors for the past one year, I can still find beauty inside our home and around me everyday, because Bangalore has trained me to look for it.

It ain’t Grand.

It’s my home.

NOTE : Part 1 of ‘Who Is Bangalore – an illustrated guide to food memories from my hometown’ was released simultaneously in Bangalore and San Francisco as part of Festival of Stories by Art in Transit – an initiative by Srishti School Of Art