Saturday, 11 June 2016

The beauty of Malleswaram in Bangalore

I have retreated for two weeks of relative solitude at my brother’s home in Malleswaram Bengaluru and discovered this neighbourhood that’s a unique microcosm reflecting south India.

And it’s a wonderful way to discover some of things I quite like about Bengaluru and the potential the city had.

Bangalore now called Bengaluru is first world by Indian standards. Compared to the rest of India, life here is far far far more comfortable – almost like staying in Western Europe. 

I have always envied folks who were brought up in Bangalore as they not just had some of the best facilities to choose from but also had the advantage of learning at least four south Indian languages (Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Tulu etc.). And since I like quizzing, it today is the centre of gravity for quizzing in India. Also with its fabulous network and the well-laid out (well…) roads system of mains and crosses – I think helped kids have fab memories and be more arithmetically inclined.

I have had an uneasy, disagreeable relationship with Bengaluru and could never settle there. The city has given me some great experiences, from pub crawls to great south Indian food.  (And I personally love and prefer south Mumbai anyday). Somehow things would never work out, plus I had a lot of discomfort with how things ran in Bengaluru, including the work ethic (back in the 90s).  Somehow the city was too idyllic and utopian that can spoil things a bit…. :-)

I retreat to my brother’s rented home in Malleswaram for two weeks given that his family is travelling and he’s a forced bachelor. He works nearly 12 hours a day and I have the house to myself and it helps me meditate and the fabulously chilled out weather helps me catch up on sleep.

In the evenings and the mornings I walk around and Malleswaram is a great neighbourhood for walking around with its greenery, footpaths, busy-bustling markets and temples.  The roads are hilly with ups and downs and give you a great work out. All the roads are lined with footpaths and tall, leafy, trees that provide such foliage that most of the road stays dry during a light drizzle.   It’s of course a lousy place to move around if you are in the car as the place can get jammed real badly.

One walk-around Malleswaram and it is clear that this is an anti-thesis or the absolutely grand opposite for what most of what modern Bangalore stands for. Malleswaram is mostly vegetarian, non-alcoholic, traditional and religious.  The folks are mostly tam brams (Tamil brahmins) including Kannadigas and then the few konkanis thrown in.  Its slowly yielding to changes but continues to retain some of the core characteristics seen earlier.
You can see the remnants of modern history (I mean from the early parts of the 20th century – 1950s etc.).  So there are lovely art deco buildings, as well as some colonial buildings including some official buildings – places that all property dealers greedily keep looking at, weeping that they are missing out on a good deal. 

One such house is that of the divine Saroja Devi, one of South Indian Cinema’s brightest lights.  Saroja Devi acted in Kannada films and had one of those faces that was a indian classical beauty, perfect. Her house is a lovely art-deco bungalow.

But Malleswaram’s heart is in the markets you will see in the area around Sampige road.  There are vendors peddling everything from clothes to trinkets, and novelties – to even home made pickles.

The food is something I love, especially the filter coffees where I think Bengaluru beats all other cities hands down.  And then there’s the Udipi food I absolutely love and then some uniquely Karnataka food and snacks on offer. I cant get into CTR which is super-crowded at all times, but eat at a roadside stall near the station and at Maiyyas (Both offer food at such ridiculously low prices, cant help being suspicious) and have snacks in around various places.  Can there be a more perfect place for south Indian vegetarian food. (only missing is the veg Andhra or Kerala meals).

I also spend a lot of time across the temples of Malleswaram and absolutely love them.  There’s the simple Raghavendra mutt, to the lovely, elaborate temples of Kanika Parameswari, Krishna, Maha Ganapati.  Towards the edge of Malleswaram is the fabulous and unique Chowdaiah Music hall – shaped in the form a  violin, and on the same road is the TTD temple, a branch of the temples of Tirupati.

The crowd that you meet are mostly South Indian, and I love hearing snatches of their conversations, though I barely speak any south indian language (a disadvantage of being brought up in cosmopolitan surroundings or perhaps a sheltered one!).  The intonation, some of the terms they use, help in understanding what they are saying and the emotions.

I spend two weeks there in meditation and Malleswaram offers me a true retreat, and I discover another part of Bengaluru.  But also know this is not the best thing for me.  In spite of walking for 2 hours daily, the idyllic and near perfect neighbourhood has helped me put on a few pounds in two weeks!!