For over a year I’d been trying to plan a weekend trip to Bangalore to visit my elderly aunt and uncle. It finally happened in August. They live in the historic neighbourhood of Malleswaram, where I had spent a few school summer vacations. Though I’d been to Bangalore once in the interim, I had only gone to places like M.G. Road, now unrecognisable from my childhood, but not to the neighbourhood where I had stayed and roamed on a bicycle with my cousin.
Taking a 7 a.m. walk around Malleswaram on a Sunday, I was surprised to find distinct traces of the old Bangalore. When I visited it as a young girl, it was a middle-class neighbourhood with a mainly Tamil population. Though it’s more cosmopolitan now, much of the old survives. Leafy one-way streets still have old bungalows and the corner near my aunt’s home still has a flower-seller, with framed pictures of Hanuman up on the tree near him. I saw young and old returning from temples with grey vibhuti on their foreheads. Across from their old house, Veena Stores is unchanged. It sells fluffy idlis and people are still happy to stand on the pavement and eat.
In the feisty IT hub that Bangalore has become, I expected to see more of India’s Silicon Valley, the world of start-ups and microbreweries and malls. But in the middle-class Tamil Malleswaram, where masks of rakshasas still ward off the evil eye before construction of a house begins, I caught a glimpse of different world. A space where smartphones and iPads, Facebook and Twitter, have little or no role to play.
More than all the tangible signs I saw, it was staying in this traditional neighbourhood and watching the ins and outs in my uncle and aunt’s home that was eye-opening. This is a world that I sometimes forget still exists. A world of strong community bonds, where neighbours drop by all the time. Where some of the closest friends an elderly couple in their 80s have, are people half their age who visit almost every day. Among the visitors to their home that I met, was a man in his early 40s, who lip-read and spoke so well that I learnt he was deaf only after he left. More significant, however, was what I heard next: He works in a bank, earns a salary of ₹45,000, and spends over half of it on charitable causes every month. I don’t know anyone his age who works in a bank or in any other job, with that kind of commitment to humanity.
It’s amazing how much you remember of a forgotten past when you revisit a place of fond memories. And that’s how I spent most of my weekend: Recalling incidents, laughing over the follies of childhood, remembering long-forgotten relatives and playmates. I discovered my uncle is an avid travel magazine reader. “Even if I can’t go to these places myself, I can read the stories and transport myself there,” he said with a laugh. Once he gets his knee replacement surgery done, he hopes to travel to Leh by road since he’s heard so much of the spectacular journey. From long hours chatting with my aunt who is in her early 80s, I learnt what she wants to do, who she wants to help, the plans she has once she’s more mobile. This from a lady who met with a major road accident a year ago, in which she broke both legs with multiple fractures. “Whatever negative incidences, like the accident, happen.” she said, “I feel sad for a short while and then I mentally move on. There is a lesson in everything and I’d rather understand that and learn something than mope around.”
In the modern, westernised world, we try to derive positive thinking by turning to self-help books and sometimes to new-age versions of religions. Here, I saw that my aunt too gets her spirit from reading, but she reads the Vedas and traditional Indian philosophies passed down through various traditions. Wherever I travel I like to notice people’s attitude to the situation of their lives. I particularly like to observe what people do when life serves up a few lemons. It’s clear that in this traditional Bangalore neighbourhood there is much positive thinking. For my aunt and uncle, it is ingrained in their personalities. Partaking of it, and enjoying this positive energy and zest for living a good life, was what made this weekend trip a real delight.
Appeared in the September 2015 issue as “Reconnecting With The Past”.
Niloufer Venkatraman ’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through the wilderness or the by-lanes of a city. She is obsessive about family holidays and has already instilled in her young daughter wanderlust and a love for the outdoors. She is the former Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.