Archive for October, 2006

Our city is to be called Bengalooru. The actually re-naming does not start right away. But the process begins today, with an official announcement being made by the government to mark the Suvarna Karnataka celebrations.

To me, the move brings a lot of mixed emotions. There are images that the name Bangalore brings to mind, and I have spoken about them before here. Bengalooru just does not conjure up the same images. But, in a sense that does not matter because the Bangalore of my growing years has almost ceased to exist. So, what’s in a name?

Today, Bangalore is a city torn between a new migrant population and Karnataka’s need to assert its identity as a state. Lost somewhere in between is the confused, well-intentioned, quaint old Bangalorean. Meanwhile, the rise and fall (for this too must follow) of the IT industry plays itself out across the landscape, even as the city is brought down to its knees by a woeful lack of infrastructure. Yet, this remains the city of my youth that I will always passionately love, with all those contradictory emotions that are always associated with a first love.

In this context, does it really matter whether it is Bangalore or Bengalooru?

So, what is the proposal to rename to rename Bangalore all about? The proposal came from U R Ananthamurthy, an academician whom I respect intensely. You could read an article from him here.

His main points are:
1. Kannadigas should take pride in their achievements.
2. They should be Kannadiga and Indian, which in fact they have always been.
3. Bengalooru is just one of the steps that he propagates (this is not implicitly stated. This is my inference).
4. Total literacy in Karnataka.
5. Spoken English to all children in all schools and at least one subject from the humanities to be taught in Kannada.
6. Two colleges, a medical and an engineering, in the Kannada medium, where English is also used. They should be so good that students from other parts of India would want to join them if they learn Kannada, as when students went for medical education to Russia after learning Russian.
7. Kannadigas should be themselves and also connect with the rest of the world. If five crore Kannadigas are literate, then Kannada will be like one of the great European languages in the modern world.

This is the entirety of his vision. If this is really achieved, I would be happy for Bangalore to be known as Bengalooru. But, if the only step taken in this direction is the renaming of Bangalore, I think that this would achieve very little. At the most, it might distract people from the government’s real, systematic and consistent failures.

These include:
1. Uneven economic development.
2. An inadequate educational system, outside Bangalore. Why is it that IT firms go to Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai to recruit talent? It’s not because they have anything against the state. It’s because they can’t find people with the skills that they need within the state.
3. The systematic decimation of the best parts of Bangalore. On one hand, the state has watched as the best parts of Bangalore are destroyed (the green cover, the lakes and the city’s history), and on the other hand it has allowed indiscriminate development (one road with the city’s two busiest malls, over 15 high rise apartments adjacent to each other on the same single stretch of land, a high rise at one of the city’s busiest junctions between three of the city’s most important schools.)
4. Pollution.
5. Corruption.

Only when these problems are sorted out and Ananthamurthy’s vision implemented in its entirety, can Bangalore truly transition into Bengalooru. Till then, what’s in a name?

A colleague at work loaned me Amelie a couple of months ago. But, at my house, one television is shared between 6 people 🙂 So, it has just been lying in my cupboard for a long time. But, yesterday there was no one else  at home, and I finally got it out.

Amelie has been described in many ways. “The feel-good film of the year”. “A modern day fairy tale”. It is all of this and more.

The main story line is simple, and has been often told in different ways… “Amelie, an innocent and naive girl in Paris, with her own sense of justice, decides to help those around her and along the way, discovers love.” Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?

Yet, the difference lies in the way that the story is told. The narrative begins with the lines, “On September 3rd 1973, at 6:28pm and 32 seconds, a bluebottle fly capable of 14,670 wing beats a minute landed on Rue St Vincent, Montmartre. At the same moment, on a restaurant terrace nearby, the wind magically made two glasses dance unseen on a tablecloth. Meanwhile, in a 5th-floor flat, 28 Avenue Trudaine, Paris 9, returning from his best friend’s funeral, Eugène Colère erased his name from his address book. At the same moment, a sperm with one X chromosome, belonging to RaphaĂ«l Poulain, made a dash for an egg in his wife Amandine. Nine months later, AmĂ©lie Poulain was born.”

As you listen, you smile, and get drawn in.

The things that I liked best about the movie was the way its quirky sense of humour, combined with a sense of poetry. Underlying each scene is a belief in the goodness of life.

Another interesting part of the film was the way that everything tied in. If a dagger was pulled out, it was pulled out for a reason. It was never left hanging in mid-air. The scriptwriters always explained themselves, and all the threads that had been initiated only added to the richness of the film. The film could well be viewed as a lesson in the art of scriptwriting.

In fact, the Director and Scriptwriter,  Jean Pierre Jeunet, began collecting the incidents that make up the movie from 1974. It is perhaps for this reason that even the bizarre in the film is always original. Like could anyone possibly come up with the idea of a Goldfish who repeatedly tried to commit suicide by jumping out a bowl of water?… Well, and even if you were to witness an incident like that, the interesting thing is to conceive the episode as ‘suicide’.

It was only towards the end of the film that I realised that the female lead in the film had been played by Audrey Tautou. Yes, the same actor who played the lead in The Da Vinci Code. How does one come out with an awesome performance as in Amelie, and then do a Da Vinci Code? Can the two actually exist in the same space? Well, it seems like they do.

Incidentally, Lagaan competed against Amelie for the Oscars in 2002 (Best Foreign Language Film). Both of them lost to the Bosnian film No Man’s Land. That apart the film was nominated for 4 Oscars in the general category. It also had another 49 wins and 38 nominations. So, when Indian films do compete at the international level, this is really what they are up against.

Maybe it’s time for us to stop blindly crying ‘foul’ every time an Indian film loses at the Oscars, and instead try to understand and accept the great works that are a part of international cinema.

It was a film that was released one year before I was born. But, thirty years later, the film still lingers on in the collective Indian imagination.

Most of my contemporaries have seen the film at least once during the growing years. Sholay jokes and dialogues are still a part of the national vocabulary.

It is perhaps a tribute to Amjad Khan that I knew him first as Gabbar Singh of Sholay, and later by his real name (this inspite of the fact that I had never seen the movie).

Now finally, two decades too late, I watched the film last night.

Yes, it is not an unusual story line in the context of Bollywood. And there were definitely parts of the film that were far from perfect. But, I still found that I liked the movie immensely.

Here’s to the best parts of Sholay:

  • Gabbar Singh, Gabbar Singh, Gabbar Singh
  • A powerful performance from Sanjeev Kumar as Thakur Baldev Singh
  • Veeru and Jai
  • Veeru and Basanti
  • A very real performance from Jaya Badhuri as Radha (effective, but never melodramatic). You get a glimpse of her calibre as an actress (if you have not seen it already).
  • Yeh dosti hum nahi chodenge (I have known the lyrics of this song all my life, without having seen the film)
  • Mehbooba oh Mehbooba (Again… I knew the lyrics before I saw the film)
  • Great dialogues from Salim-Javed
  • Excellent editing

The interesting thing is that each character is very well defined, and the extremely talented cast live their characters. That’s why when we talk of Sholay, we rarely talk of the giants who starred in the movie. Instead, we talk of Gabbar Singh, Veeru, Jai and Basanti.

And  that’s what Ram Gopa Verma will have to match when he lets lose his re-make of Sholay on a nation that has still not quite gotten over the original.

Our First Car

Posted: October 20, 2006 in Life and Living

Manoj and I have always been passionate bike riders. I guess that had a lot to do with growing up in Bangalore in the eighties and the nineties.

As a teenager, I always dreamed about owing my bike (never a car). And when I owned my first scooty in my first year of college, she was my most prized possession. I just got on her, and started riding.

My deep metallic blue beauty and I had many adventures together. The most memorable one was perhaps in the first month when I owned her. As most scooty owners will tell you, the maximum speed for a new bike is 30 km/hr. This typically means that a really fast cyclist is swifter faster than you.

All this notwithstanding, Sharon and I decided that my brand new scooty would be our escort on an evening when we didn’t want to study for Final First Year BA exams, but wanted to watch Braveheart instead. So, though we were fighting to beat the clock, we still did 30 km/hr to Lido. Sharon was riding, as I was not confident about managing my bike with a pillion rider in tow.

As luck should have it, we got the last two tickets for the show, and watched the film sitting perched on the first two seats in the theatre and with Scotsmen almost decending on us.

Later in the night, we drove back, enjoying the bike moving at a snail’s pace in the night’s still coolness. We talked about the film with all the young idealism of those days. We were content in our friendship and our great love of cinema. Truly, a vintage moment.

Years later, when I went to study in the UK, my mother sold my faithful scooty. But, I never forgot my bike, my buddy. So, when I returned to India, I bought another scooty, again in the deep metallic blue that I had lost my heart to when I was a teenager.

And so, this state of affairs continued till after the time that I got married. I still did not (and do not) dream about a car. But, I finally bowed to the inevitable. After all. a car does have its advantages – like on those days when you don’t want to get wet or when you want to go out with the family. Or was it the compromise of a heart growing old?

Well, whatever. But, our first car came home on September 16, 2006 – even if she was viewed as a necessity, and not a passion. She was a black Alto. And since neither Manoj nor I knew how to drive at time, Anamika had the honour of driving home a black car tied in a gigantic red ribbon. And in typical Anamika style, it was a faultless performance.

The next morning, Manoj and I decided that we would take the car out. Driving was like second nature for Manoj. I am not lying when I say that he got into the car, and just started driving. After a few outings, he even began to do complicated things like taking the whole family to lunch and taking the car to JC Road (if you don’t know Bangalore, J C Road is this congested area full of tiny lanes that have space for exactly half a car at a time.)

And while I (not Manoj) went for driving classes, I was the one struggling. I spent 45 minutes trying to get the car started on the first day. And once I started, I get myself into a bad situation and I had to immediately reverse the car. So, I was stuck again.

I am not so comfortable with the controls of the car. And the logic behind gears that contol a car and handling the steering wheel when you want to reverse beats me.

I also seem to have a knack for getting into difficult situations. I mean, is it normal to stall on a slope and have to move into first gear without slamming into the madly horning bus driver behind you? This at a time when you still have not completely mastered the mysteries of first gear. Or what about having a drunk motorcyclist almost run into you at 12 in the night, and you trying to have a discussion with him on whose fault it was? As Manoj wisely reminded me – was I ACTUALLY even trying to talk to a drunkard????

Sometimes, I feel like one of those forwards on ‘woman drivers.’

But well, I am trying. And I’ve managed a few small feats like taking the car into a petrol bunk (while yelling at Manoj for making me do that) and driving from Kammanahalli to Vivek Nagar (yes, that was done in the dead of the night. What else did you think?)

Meanwhile, of course, I still love my bike, and I can’t for the life of me fathom why anyone would give up the ease of a bike for a car.

But, we have just survived Month Numero Uno in our new car. Like with most first-time drivers, our car also has its first dent. But well, thank god it was the car and not Manoj (no, it wasn’t me that caused the dent) .

So, now it’s time for Month Two. And the good part to this is that if you can learn to drive in Bangalore, you can drive anywhere.

Parochial…. Me???

Posted: October 9, 2006 in Bangalore, Life and Living

Parochial… Me??? I guess so…

This is a very difficult entry for me to make… And yet, I feel that I must make it. If simply because I have been sitting in front of my computer for about an hour trying to write about my trip to Mysore over the weekend. But, I did not get anywhere. I am very angry right now. And I can feel very little except my anger. I hope that talking about this will make things a little better.

As a child, the only identity my mother gave me was that I was Indian. I wandered from one Indian city to another, always accepting the people I met. I rarely saw them as belonging to a particular community, I only saw them people. I don’t know whether this had something to do with my mother or just the fact that in those days Bangalore was a kind where you did not think too much about community in those days.

As a young adult, I could truly say that I was a cosmopolitan citizen of the world, and it was probably true.

But, I think that has changed now. And that makes me sad.

Today, at work there was the conversation between me and one of colleagues. It went something like this…
Vineet: Christina has never given us a treat.
Me: (with a laugh) And I am not going to also. After all I come from Wipro.
Vineet: The traits of a kanjoos mallu

I did not respond in kind. But, I have rarely been so angry. It is not that I identify with being Malayalee. It has more to do with the fact that I resent people who look at everything from the perspective of typecasting a community in particular way. I also resent the intrusion of this spirit into Bangalore.

The same person Vineet (who happens to be North Indian) has on another occasion referred to Kannada as  “obscene  language”  in front of the whole team. At that instance, I protested.

No, I can’t speak Kannada, and yet I would respect it, as I would any other language. I also see the logic and the beauty to it. And it angers me that someone else should treat it with so little respect.

What makes a language obscene? The fact that you can’t speak to it? Or does have something to do with the fact that you don’t have the intellect to comprehend it?

Later in the day, another colleague was corrected when he referred to Parveen Babi as Parveen Bobby. We were told that all of North India refers to Parveen Babi as Parveen Bobby. He was told that all of North India was wrong. He took the opportunity to launch off on a tirade on South Indian accents. Pray, what is the connection? Parveen Bobby is incorrect whether a North Indian or a South Indian says it.

At this point, it occurred to me that I don’t like North Indians much. In the course of my travels, I have met many fine people who are North Indian. But, I think the worst of the lot land  up in Bangalore. They bring a small town mentality to a city that has always had an open culture. Then, they suck the blood out of that city, while whining about its inadequacies and abusing all things South Indian. I mean if you are not happy, is anyone holding your hand and asking you to stay????? Please, please go. Surely there is a better place somewhere that can make you happy? Or how about trying to change the situation instead of whining endlessly? But, no. They will stay, and they will whine.

Also what  is this ‘South Indian’ bracket thing? It’s like how the British refer to Asians, Pakistanis and Chinese as British Asian. Of  course, the more ignorant North Indians use the term Madarasi in place of the ‘South Indian’ bracket thing, which  is  a lot worse.

I know that what I have just written makes me as parochial as those who I criticise. Guilty as charged. And I feel terrible about the fact that I can no longer call myself an open minded citizen of the world. But, this is how I feel.

I can only hope that with time the way I feel will change because I know that the situation will not change. The IT boom is going to be here for sometime now.

Perhaps if I can accept that the culture of the city has changed forever, the pain would not be so deep or the anger so intense.

(I am sorry about post… And yet, I needed to say… Parochial, I am… I not proud of it. But yet, I must say it… Parochial, I am.)