Life's Like That

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rootless and loving it

While in Bombay, I met this gentleman who has recently moved to the city from Calcutta. Whi;le I understand that adjusting to a new city takes time, I was not prepared for the sheer negativity of his approach. He didnt seem to be able to find one good thing about the city he has just moved to. From the rains, to the tiny flats,to the cost of living, to the food, he found nothing worth liking. The last straw, as he told me, was the fact that his seven year old son was reciting Marathi poems and learning Marathi instead of Bengali. Now, forgive me if Im missing some Bengali love for the motherland type of sentiment here but whats the big deal? I would be very happy if my child learnt some other Indian language, apart from Hindi and his mothertongue. Its such an advantage. Is this irritating tendency to wear ones cultural roots on ones sleeve a predominantly Bengali trait? Or other communities as subject to it as we Bongs are?

I have not moved around the country as much as others whose parents had transferable jobs have. But I am prfoundly thankful I had the chance to get out of the city I was born in and live elsewhere. I was born in Calcutta and lived there till I was 18. I then moved to Bangalore where I still live. In between I have lived in Hyderabad for a year and Bombay for a few months. Thanks to the boy I can consider Chennai a third home. Living in a city is so different from merely visiting a city or holidaying in a city. The experience opens your mind, makes you more receptive to new cultural experiences, gives you a perspective on the city like nothing else can.

If I had'nt lived in Bangalore for as long as I have, would I have developed this taste for Iyengar puliogare? Or idlis from Veena Stores? Would I have known that in one of the little bylanes off Commercial Street there is a little hole in the wall that makes the best ghee dosas ever? When I first moved to Bangalore I almost threw up on biting into a banana chip fried in coconut oil. Today, I look forward to my friend's return from Kerala not just for the banana chips but for the jackfruit chips as well. Unlike some of my relatives I am totally comfortable travelling within the Southern states, the food, the language, the weather...its all something I am totally used to. I know a Tamil wedding takes hours with multiple sari changes and a Malayali Hindu wedding gets over in 5 minutes. I time my appearances accordingly. I know how to cuss and abuse in Kannada ( not that I do that loudly...but its good to know that I can if I want to). I no longer gasp at the sight of people dancing at the head of funeral processions. While I can't speak the language properly, I can understand what is being said to me. I can distinguish between the four South Indian languages. I know 100 places to go for weekend holidays. I can never be lost in this city.

Hyderabad taught me that the city of nawabs have a nawabi sense of time. No point expecting shops to open before 11 a.m. In Hyderabad I learnt to decipher the strange sounds made by some as "Hyderabadi Hindi". Once deciphered, I learnt to comprehend and appreciate the mutilated language in all its glory. I know the quickest item to order from the menu when one is in a hurry is the chicken biriyani. I first ate this divine something called pesarettu in Hyderabad. No place in Bangalore, to my knowledge makes it the same. I can take you on a comprehensive tour of the Old City, take you to the best bangle shop for bargains in Laad Bazaar, show you the best shops for buying Hyderabadi pearls and feed you the most finger licking good biriyani ever at Madina and Shadab and Basera( no Paradise biriyani does not come close). I can find my own way about the city from Secundarabad to Gachi Bowli. I am comfortable in an auto, a bus, a cab and even a seven seater. I can take you for an authentic Punjabi meal at Pappaji da Dhaba near Abids and show you a decent second hand book sale near the same. I know drivers in Hyderabad are slightly mad and don't seem to understand that red signal means STOP. I can take you down a 100 lanes, each bringing up some memory, each leaving me gasping and shaking my head at the changes that 8 years away from it have wrought.

Bombay....the city I love to hate. I know can never feel unsafe in Bombay. I know the average Bombay ite will not give you a second glance if you are being murdered on the road, but ask him / her for directions and he / she will practically walk you there. I know I can walk down Parsi Colony near the Five Gardens area in Dadar and feel transported back to Calcutta...the houses, the lanes everything is so uncannily similar to Ballygunge Place / Fern Road. I used to know some of the second book sellers near Churchgate, daresay I wont be able to recognize them now. I know that the city can get suffocatingly crowded. I know I only need to walk down Marine Drive or sit at the Bandra bandstand to feel gloriously free and happy. Rain or shine, these two places can be depended upon to lift my mood. I have favourite places to visit each time I'm in the city. Crystal on Marine Drive, Barista on the Bandstand, Sports Bar at Phoenix Mills, Lokhandwala market, Leopolds..so many memories intertwined with these places. I know I love to hear Marathi being spoken, its so sweet and similar to Bengali in the way they address each other as tumi. I know I detest the Bombay trains. Though I have fond memories of the "train friends" I had made during my short stint in the city...ladies who made space for me to stand, who smiled at me when I got into the train and smiled goodbye when I got off. I used to know all the stations in order from Andheri to Churchgate though I have forgotten some of it now.

Each of these cities have memories or experiences associated with places within them. A road here, a restaurant there, memories come flooding back. I cannot quite describe the feeling of coming out of an airport in a city that used to be your home and finding familar roads and landmarks around you. The best part of having lived in more than one city, I think, are the friends you make. I can reach Hyderabad in the middle of the night and have an option of calling 4 different people for a place to stay at night. Same goes for Bombay, Calcutta and of course Bangalore. In fact today I have friends across India. I can land up in Aizwal, Mizoram unannounced and depend on my friend P to put me up for the night. Had I not lived in Hyderabad would I have even known P?

I wanted to say all this and more to the discontent gentleman in Bombay. Embrace the new experiences life is offering you. Be happy your son has the opportunity to grow up in a city like Bombay, learning the local language. Be happier than you have this wonderful chance to live in a city other than the one you grew up in....that you have the choice to decide whether you like the city or not, which parts of the city you like and which parts you don't. Open your mind a bit...live a little.

23 Comments:

  • Wow I am the first one to comment!! It was a lovely post. Yes, some people need to open their hearts and minds to new things in life. I hope they understand it some day.

    You have not mentioned anything about your third home Chennai? As a frequent visitor to that city, I was hoping to read your perspective of Chennai and its people :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:43 PM  

  • You are right about Hyderabad, i feel the same.

    By Anonymous Raj, at 12:54 AM  

  • Great post Ron...suffice to say, 'Live a LIttle' :-)

    And next time you're in Bombay, shall take you to some more nice places:-)

    By Blogger Deep, at 12:59 AM  

  • Nice post Ron! Yeah, soaking up new cultures and embracing experiences is what true living is all about!

    By Blogger Annapoorna R Shinu, at 1:07 AM  

  • u know Ron - you observation is spot on ... and its not just Bongs - its with everyone ... Tams, Mallus, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujjus - everyone. .. worse still is that this behavior continues even when in other countries/continents ... S and I have finally deduced that this behavior is mostly with non-transplants ... ppl who have never moved outside of their community ever ... kinda sad that it still happens in a dynamic place like India with 1.2 billion people ... and which is why most Bombayites (yours truly) are naturally non-polarized - coz most of them are transplants to begin with.

    By Blogger Venky, at 1:16 AM  

  • And why do Bongs crib about food so much? On one hand, you have the fact that so many Bongs are such amazing foodies, gamely tasting anything and everything and generally making a fool of themselves over their love of food, and on the other you have Bongs who can't live in PGs and hostels (and give up promising careers) because they can't have maayer banano machher jhol bhaat. It's amazing, really.

    By Anonymous Shrabonti, at 3:12 AM  

  • Oh i was just about to comment on macher jhol and bhat. Maybe it is something to do with Bongs. I really don't know, I've heard people tear Calcutta apart. But like you, I'm glad I moved to another city to discover and hate and love and make my own. And maybe even to realise how much I love Calcutta.

    By Blogger Dreamcatcher, at 5:28 AM  

  • This was a wonderful post. I forgot to say that.

    By Blogger Dreamcatcher, at 5:28 AM  

  • Nice! By the way where do you get the best ghee dosa on Comm Street? Tell tell!

    By Blogger Vishal, at 5:18 AM  

  • Nah, it's not a Bong trait. You and I are Bongs too. It's a people thing. Nice post. I feel the same way about Calcutta, Hyd, Vizag and Madras. There's nothing like living in a city to have it enter your blood.

    By Blogger Sue, at 1:20 AM  

  • Yes, living in different parts of the country has been truly enriching.
    lovely post,Ron!

    By Blogger dipali, at 1:57 AM  

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    By Blogger Nakshatra, at 11:32 AM  

  • I hear it's your birthday today? Have a wonderful one! Funny, I would've tagged you for a Leo.

    By Blogger Terri, at 10:20 PM  

  • @Anonymous: how did I miss out Chennai? I love Marina Beach Sarvana Bhavan and Fruit Shop. Wish they would open a Fruit Shop in Bangalore. And I luuuurve ECR Road. Nice city, getting more cosmopolitan by the day. The weather sucks though...unbearable in summer.

    @Raj: :)

    @Deep: We must go to Sports Bar...old memories :)

    @Annapoorna: You do know that bit about peserettu was meant for you dont you? So when can I come over to eat?

    @Venky: Hey where have you been all this while?

    @Shrabonti: Oh god!! Dont remind me of the mach bhaat obsession.

    @Dreamcatcher: I thought you would understand the point of this post :)

    @Vishal: I'll do better, I'll take you.

    @Sue: You are one more person who I thought would understand this.

    @Dipali: Thank you :) Hows the arm doing?

    @Nakshatra: Will check it out

    @ Terri: 'tis tomorrow. I turn 30. Siiiiiiighhhh. And I am a Virgo.

    By Blogger Ron, at 2:27 AM  

  • Happy birthday Ron.
    Thirty rocks:)
    One armed hugs!

    By Blogger dipali, at 11:49 AM  

  • Thanks Dipali 30 totally rocks :D

    By Blogger Ron, at 11:42 PM  

  • 3 points, 1 of them minor.

    1 - Happy Birthday and welcome to the adult world (adult at 21 is for wimps)

    2 - Bravo twice over for the post. Once for the writing and a second time if it's all true.

    3 - This minor one at The Marauder - besh korbo crib korbo! We demand GOOD food! (And, as you admit, not necessarily Bong food)

    J.A.P.

    By Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock, at 10:39 AM  

  • It must be depressing not to eat aloo. That’s all I eat. Happy Birthday  Hope you indulged and had a great day.

    By Blogger Dreamcatcher, at 12:18 AM  

  • @JAP: 1) Thank you. Totally agree with you.

    2) Thank you again and of course its all true.

    3) Marauder read your comment and says "noone loves me" in a morose manner.

    @dreamcatcher: oh it is dreadfully depressing. And to add insult to injury I now eat horribly pathetic things like musambi and palak!! *sob* did I mention I hate thin people?

    By Blogger Ron, at 2:30 AM  

  • (sotto voce) I LIKE palak !

    J.A.P.

    By Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock, at 2:21 AM  

  • Ron,
    Did I tell u i love u!!:-))
    Wonderful post!!
    Really..I mean I am a die-hard bombaiyte (notice its still bombay and not the damn Mumbai for me!!)...but i have lived for 3 yrs in blore and loooveeddd every minute of it..have special bond with that place!!
    And i soo totally agree with the spirit of the post...its a new experience...so embrace it!!
    I have now been staying for 4 plus yrs in a new country and now this place feels home as well...

    By Blogger Ekta, at 1:12 AM  

  • @JAP: Im not talking palak paneer n suchlike. Im talking plain palak saag. Cooked in half tsp oil :(

    @Ekta: :)

    By Blogger Ron, at 3:36 AM  

  • @Ron - main baap ban gaya ... now you now where I have been :D

    By Blogger Venky, at 5:08 AM  

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