Papa always used to tell me Koramangala isn’t Bangalore till 8:00 am. Koramangala isn’t even Koramangala till 8:00 am, he says now.
Little browns sparrows twitter in the cool fog responding to the heated whistles of an old bubbling cooker, the rumble of the Nandini milk booth Akka on her father’s green TVS–borrowed, never her own–delivering watery milk packets, and the smell of sandalwood agarbaati make Koramangala’s mornings.
Koramangala’s sunrises are blinding, traffic starts to move then and the smoke and dust rise upwards from the ground. As Papa says, Ah yes, this is a Koramangala now.
Venni and I used to walk in the evenings, lazily shuffling past my street and gazing at the trees trying to count them. These trees were mostly of two varieties: the May Flower tree whose seed bursts into clear liquid when you stepped on them and the other is something we all call the Thoongamoonji tree aka sleepy-faced tree.
There were eighteen May Flower trees and thirteen Thoongamoonji trees.
We’d walk from my cold stone house up till National Games Village, the bright orange flowers turning into fluttery pink and white bougainvillea creepers as we chattered non-stop in a language only we knew. A Johnnie Walker store clearly served as an unsaid border between the oh-so-posh 6th Block Koramangala and the uneasy mix of 8th block Koramangala, Rajendranagar, and Ejipura.
Amma made us both promise not to go past this Johnnie Walker store. She threateningly glared and said she would make me eat sugarless kanji and plain rice for a week if I didn’t listen. She would look apologetically at Venni when she said this, just not a safe area, aamava? nothing personal, okay.
So, Venni and I played little games to pass our time and made sure that we reached home before the leaves of the Thoongamoonji trees closed tiredly and drooped into a darker green. The memories of my childhood in Koramangala are these walks filled with Venni counting trees. I’d teach her English and she’d teach me Kannada and Tamil.
She would often tell me that Koramangala was the size of the town she came from, her ooru. Maybe even bigger.
“Where are you from?”
“Where’s your native?”
“This little town in Andhra Pradesh, ya but, you wouldn’t know it.”
“Ah so you speak Telugu at home?”
“Um. Not really, bro. Mostly English. But oh, I know Kannada, sort of.”
My friend B tells me she wants to see where she’s from. Really from. Not Bangalore where her family has settled for generations but where they come from. Her eyes sparkle when she talks of her mother’s memories in a place that has a soft mix of Telugu and Tamil, not the harsh Kannada B knows.
My other friend A has an equally ambitious dream. She says she wants to go back to a Bangalore before traffic jams and two-hour bus rides to Hebbal. She wants to see this Bangalore her parents know, one before Bangalore made its glorious amoebic burst. In her particularly philosophical moods, clutching a cigarette and looking the very picture of hipster, she asks,”Okay, but what the heck does it even mean to be Bangalorean ?”
Koramangala is full of these wispy careful dreams and anxieties, the eventual longing to know the land that their grandparents speak fondly of. These permanent lands full of fields, laughter, and the informal warm curl of language and family. These concrete lands with concrete lingering feelings, not fleeting moments that need to be tied down.
Amma used to call our street, Pataas Street. During the rainy Diwali season, all the kids from Koramangala would assemble with liquid grins, clutching colourful flower pots, rockets and chakras. Their parents were close behind holding onto massive glass bottles and golden diyas. No cars ever came there, so right in the middle of the road, we’d light our little crackers.
Pataas street is long gone, it’s now part of 80 feet road. Just like Check Post is now considered Forum and Maharaja’s is now part of Sony Signal.
But the beautiful thing is that Koramangala still retains some of these names even though the area is long gone. Sometimes, I wonder if Koramangala also feels the urge to hoard memories and feelings
“Okay, so come to that Namdhari’s Fresh near the police station.”
“Ay no, wait it’s now some cafe or something now,”
“Ma, it’s now Tech World. The blue board one, no”
That is Koramangala now. Constantly shape-shifting into multiple things over a period of few weeks.
My brother is convinced that Sony Signal road is haunted. Places there change every month. He claims that the highest record is held by some Kotak bank that became a Jewellery store and then changed into a Cupcake Noggins within three weeks. Landmarks are not set in Koramangala, we go by trees and invisible things that used to exist.
Mannarguddi has this type of tea. It’s mixed with jaggery and injii. While sniffing disapprovingly, Amma says, it also has the skin cells of the uncle who strains it there with his bare hands.
But when I sipped it, I’m not sure what it was. But this was the first time I thought of ‘home’, a warm thing I could hold without searching too hard in the memories of other people.
“Bro, you live in Koramangala uh? Oho full rich and all. When you go outside there’s full cafes and restaurants. Chumma complaining.”
Koramangala is modern. A modern neighbourhood. It was built with that in mind. A particularly fertile piece of land was scouted and the then-orchard was converted to a housing colony.
Then almost thoughtfully, the government decided that the sweepers or domestic workers who come to the housing colony need homes too. In the fringes, they helped them set up tents and so, a large part of Koramangala, one people don’t want to acknowledge–they call it by other names now–is a low-income area.
In ‘Koramangala’ Koramangala, I used to watch Amma take driving classes when I was little. She’d whiz rather dangerously past our house in a golden coloured Zen, giggling nervously when she’d accelerate instead of breaking.
She hated and still hates to drive. But, a modern woman, a woman who is from a progressive household needs to know how to drive.
But, she looks the most alive when chattering away in Tamil, in her bright cotton saris, munching on raw mango pieces, sitting on a poky straw mat. A child-like smile is always on her face.
When she’s in Bangalore and she finds a Tamilian, I see the same smile. I don’t know if I’ll ever know this feeling, one of returning home but more so, the feeling of home in a specific language.
My broken Kannada-Tamil-English is alien, it belongs in a Bangalore that is bound to change like Koramangala’s endless cafes. In a minute, it’ll cease to exist.
So goddamnit, take it and go. Take this Koramangala. I don’t want it. Koramangala– this hybrid half-baked bisibelebath, this modern type recipe with new imported mismatched ingredients– it’s messy and all over the place. I am this paan-like thing that it has spat out, equally messy and confused.
The biggest change in my life was moving from Basavanagudi to Koramangala. Not much changed. A Brahmin neighbourhood there, a Brahmin neighbourhood here.
In Koramangala, a Muslim uncle lived two houses down but then he moved away within a few months.
But the biggest similarity was that the houses on my road have names.
Even if their owners don’t have Brahmin Hindu names, their houses do.
My house has a name and I’ve never felt more guilty and ashamed.
When I got to college, my Bangalore expanded rapidly from just Koramangala. Bangalore meant 171s spilling with people, their bags and curses whizzing past . It meant onion samosa at Majestic, blurry flyovers in Bytrayanpura, pleasant walks in Cox Town and fleeting allergy ridden skies at Hebbal.
When speaking of skies, I guess I have to tell you, Venni and I have a secret. We’d sneak away to Rajendranagar, where she used to live. I never went to her house, but we’d sit near a shop called ‘Modern Store’, I’d squeeze between a broken silver DVD player and a bunch of ticklish brooms, cross-legged on a broken pavement slab munching on gems.
Just before the right to Adugodi Main Road, there’s a narrow street. Scooter honks are heard in this almost alleyway, angry uncles are cursing at each other with full josh, aunties in nighties and shawls are animatedly trading stories.
Rajendranagar has the most beautiful noisy sunsets.
Now, Venni has four kids and comes home rarely. Amma now refers to her as a maid playmate person who looked after me. When she comes, she talks to me only in English. I say my ‘hellos’ back in English.
I want to tell her, there are now three May Flower Trees and Eight Thoongamoonji trees.
I wonder if she looks at the sunset anymore. I want to tell her that I do, most of the time.
Before I can tell her, before I get the guts to say the sentence in Tamil, before I can mispronounce the ‘zhs’ and ‘r’s, She goes to the kitchen and sits there with Amma, more comfortable now.
The smoke and torn paper from Pataas Street, Amma’s pitchy rendition of Kadhal Rojave while she’s driving, gingery tea from a kutti shop in a kutti Mannarguddi, Venni’s amused whisper of the number eighteen (yeti and teen) the rattlings of the 171 and nameless warm homes.
I visualize these things in my head carefully and sparingly. It’s a list that I repeat when I hear other people talk of home.
Rajendranagar’s sunsets pop into my head more often now, a new part of the list.
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