Two things happened almost around the same time. A friend had forwarded a clutch of old pictures of Bangalore and the morning next the newspapers carried the news of Bengaluru airport being renamed after its founder, Kempegowda.
The images of Bangalore were indeed refreshing as all things old are – the buildings, landmarks, roads, people, their attire – everything, and for me it brought back unmistakable nostalgia. It reminded me of my first visit to Bangalore in June 1980. We’re probationers on Bharat Darshan. We stayed in Hotel Kamadhenu what then seemed one dead end of the MG Road. My memory is fogged but the road appeared (but it couldn’t be as I realized later, since Ulsoor lake lay beyond) a cul-de-sac – leafy trees trimming either side of it. We paid twenty rupees for the double-bedded room and I remember having (only) sumptuous masala dosa (3 in number each repast; some gastronomic desecration!) for breakfast, lunch and dinner all the seven days we stayed in Bangalore. It was utterly delicious. I’d never had anything like that before, so quickly concluded with youthful exuberance that it was the best available in the WORLD! A friend with passionate sub-nationalism tried disabusing my mind saying Woodlands in his native Madras dished out better dosas than Kamadhenu. But Woodlands’ no patch!
I can’t remember how much it cost, maybe 1 rupee, it couldn’t be more, because Rs 10 (Room-rent) + 9 (9 Dosas) made it 19 and one rupee must’ve been on coffee (filter or instant I can’t recall). Our DA was Rs 20 and I’d resolved to live off my daily allowance the five months we Bharat Darshaned and splurge my humongous salary of Rs 1103 on books. The Cellar was the bookshop on MG Road I gorged on: the entire lot of Camus, Kafka, Sartre, Lawrence, Conrad, Orwell and others. The exchange rate of Pound Sterling was Rs 17/18 but bookshops charged Rs 20, and the books (mostly) were between 20-60 pence.
A small-town bumpkin who had never spent a day in any metropolis (Bombay was already a megalopolis) before joining civil service and extremely wobbly in my soul, I can’t forget the stars that struck me times without number looking at the plentiful books in these big cities and feasting on them. The books are still with me, proudly carrying my signature with dates. Reading them was of no great earthly consequence – then, even now; passion and show-off and gewgaws were all that mattered! Chinnaswamy Stadium was a must-visit where I exulted seeing Gundappa Viswanath and Syed Kirmani in flesh and blood (they looked so surreal!), paying off the taxi-wallah, close to where I stood, across the barricade. Later, years after, I told Kirmani first up about this when we met. TV, for us in Cuttack, was still in distant future!
Bangalore was the city of PSUs. So we’re taken to BEL, BEML, NAL on educational tours. A double-decker Brindavan Express chugged us out of Bangalore (near Majestic which seemed neither majestic nor populated) and took us to Madras. We’re absolutely thrilled and kept darting up and down the two floors – one lower than the normal, the other none too high (kind of mezzanine) – and it reminded yokels like me of my first bus ride in Delhi’s double-decker a few months earlier.
Bangalore was quiet and sleepy. And, for someone brought up in hot and muggy Cuttack unbelievably cold in the ides of June. This despite being in deep south. It felt unreal; my sense of geography, bad in normal times, could find no answers. And internet and googling were still a millennium away! I wallowed pitilessly in my own ignorance.
When on posting I came to Bangalore in 2006, it seemed an altogether different city. Though I’d come off and on the past decades, the traffic and tumult of the city had passed me by during the short time I spent here. The new century/millennium with its accompanying ITspeak had taken a toll on the quietude of this pensioners’ paradise. The incessant traffic majestically riding high on a soaring sensex had democratized the road. The nightly din was no different from the day’s. The paradise had been lost – to incipient tawdry modernity. Today, only memory remains, as images speak to my eyes and mind.