The guided tour begins. But what the visiting American gets is not a predictable litany of historical facts but pages from our lives, a burst of random memories, K’s dating roughly from the 1960s-70s and mine, the 1970s-80s.
The large, warm Visiting American orders a large, cold coffee at the outdoor cafe on M.G. Road. “Look around you,” I tell him, throwing furtive glances to the left and to the right, “look at the people at those tables. None of them would be seen dead in the area where I’m going to take you.” Majestic is where we’re making a sortie to. I enlighten him on the Great Divide between Cantonment and City. After another tall glass of coffee — the VA is a caffeine addict — we wait for his colleague K, who is Bangalore-born, to join us. When she arrives, 20 minutes late because she was stopped twice by the traffic cops (rightly, for windows tinted darker than stipulated, wrongly, for using the mobile when she was actually merely turning off the audio book on her IPod), we’re skulking in the smoker’s corner.
Since I’m the self-appointed leader of the pack I suggest we take the metro feeder bus to the Kempe Gowda bus station. I asked two men in khaki, “When is MF-1 or MF-2 coming?” They shake their heads. The service has been terminated! No demand, presumably. ‘City’ doesn’t want to mingle with ‘Cantt’, and vice versa. The Great Divide persists. We decide to drive down in K’s car. The guided tour begins. But what the VA gets is not a predictable litany of historical facts but pages from our lives, K’s and mine, a burst of random memories, K’s dating roughly from the 1960s-70s and mine, the 1970s-80s.
The VA is surprised at how clean Cubbon Park is; I grumble about the fences that prevent my walking cross-country. He admires the terracotta-painted Central Library whose architecture reminds him of “the most beautiful building, the High Court.” I murmur “Attara Katcheri” and K announces, “They wanted to pull it down.” We go past the old fish canteen which has been spruced up and grandly christened Matsyadarshini. At K.R. Circle which is a Circle no longer, I point out UVCE, in a musty corner of which my journalism department once operated. More terracotta and admiration when we pass by Central College. “They wanted to pull this down too,” says K.
It is when we hit K.G. Road that we start focussing on our parking problem. The multi-storeyed parking lot on B.V.K. Iyengar Road is full, and K ploughs ahead, drawing our attention to three theatres due for demolition: Nartaki, Santosh and Sapna. “This area used to have over 80 cinema halls,” I tell the VA. “I’ll show you Majestic theatre, which gave the area its name.” I should have said “where Majestic theatre stood” because, of course, we can only see shiny, corrugated iron sheets fencing the empty site. We park in a slot opposite the Upparpet police station and as we stroll down the lane I explain to the VA the origins of the many ‘pet’s that characterise the locality: Balepet, Chickpet, Cottonpet, Akkipet and so on.
The VA, who is drinking in the sights, is beginning to appreciate the piquant taste of Majestic. ‘Hi-Fancy’ brings forth a chuckle from him, and a saloon, a shout of discovery — he had been complaining to K that Bangalore had no barbershops, but he now sees that they are located in smaller neighbourhoods. “I have to go to a ‘pet’ to get my hair cut,” he says, trying out his Word of the Day. It is snack time, and we respond to the irresistible call of UKB, a restaurant that revives the memory of many a Sunday morning family outing for K, who grew up in Rajajinagar. As we bite into the dependable vada, dosa and uppittu, the VA asks us why the waiters are barefoot. We attempt to convey the niceties of our cultural norms of cleanliness and kitchens and food and pollution.
As we walk back to the car, K indicates a man carrying a bundle of sticks on his cycle-carrier and says, “I bet you don’t know what that is.” The VA replies like the westerner he is: “Window blinds.” I confess my own cluelessness. “Shirt material is wound around it,” K explains, and I add, “We call it shirting.” She points out stacked rolls of ‘shirting’ inside a garment shop. We drive past Chikka Lal Bagh, which has thankfully remained undisturbed by tunnelling for the metro, and we remember the row of fountains on the road divider outside the railway station. K shows the VA the former Dharmanbudhi Tank, now the bus stand, and then we remind one another of how it was once an exhibition ground. “Congress exhibitions!” K exclaims. “My dad took us to listen to Usha Uthup sing here.”
It occurs to me that for the most part, K and I have been on our own trip, as it were, lapsing into personal flashbacks that would make little sense to a foreigner, and only occasionally reminding ourselves of our obligation to enlighten him. I’m not sure whether the VA wouldn’t have preferred a more methodical, guidebook approach. On the other hand, ours may be a more fun way to introduce a city to a newcomer. We should patent it. The fee could be anything we see and fancy — a meal, a movie ticket, or even a length of nice shirting.
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