Streets are long columns with houses, shops, a temple and sometimes they are filled with old grannies and screaming little children. A stay of three months in Bangalore changed this image for me.
Vengu Mudali theru at Tirunelveli in southern Tamil Nadu is the name of the street. This theru was owned by a Mudaliyar called Vengu Baasha who lived there in the 1980’s. He had 8 wives and 30 children and so to accommodate them all, he built all the 20 houses in the street. Later his family sold these houses. There is some agricultural land at the end of this street which is used by farmers to rear cattle and poultry. These cattle here had names like Sreedevi, Lakshmi, Trisha, Sneha, Nayanthara, and during my last visit I came to know that Nayantara has given birth to Deepika Padukone.
In the corner of my theru there is a Kali temple with a huge banyan tree where we always swing from its long rough roots. No theme parks can provide these rides. Houses of farmers are coloured in palich yellow, green and red. (palich is a Tamizh word that finds no definitions in English. They are just palich). Two-or three-storeyed houses of revenue inspector, thasildar, government teachers are coloured in English colours.
While playing hide and seek we buy apalapu which are golden brown crunchy fries that looks like hollow tube to make narich narich sounds to divert the seeker. After coming from school we buy thenmittai which are reddish-orange ball candies. It is the size of a cuckoo’s egg and we would lick the lava-like honey that erupted every time we bit in. When we were short of cash, we would get four packets of elanthapazham for one buck and share them. This is jam made from a fruit, so sticky, sweet and tangy. On some other days we buy sonupappadi which is milky-white and bottle-cap-sized, and orange mittai.
There are two petty shops in the two corners of my street. Meena aunty’s shop has goodies, groceries, toys like pambaram and golikas. My gang is her regular customer. Balu anna’s shop has stationery, dairy products and vegetables. Housewives are the regular customers at his shop.
There is no traffic and rush, instead after 5 pm we can find local boys and primary school girls in their stinking uniforms playing with pambaram. It is played between two. One rotates his pambaram first and the other one spins his with a greater force and releases it on the rotating one. If the first pambaram keeps rotating the first one wins. If it slows down and stops, the other one wins the game. Usually Boopathi anna who is the senior most in our gang wins Man of the Match title. Like outdoor and indoor games these street games also have rules and regulations as well as a huge mass of audience. Golikas which look like polished pebbles are used to play goli adi. One has to strike a particular golika mingled with other golikas using his striker by releasing it with the index finger. The person who loses the game will have to buy goodies for everyone. On Sundays we also play gilli and tyre racing. In the evenings old grannies gather at thinnais and have their chit chats and gossips.
Early in the morning housewives sweep their courtyards and sprinkle them with water in their tattered and shabby nighties. They draw kolams which are drawn by connecting dots. On Fridays and Tuesdays they draw flower patterns with red, parrot green, light blue colours in front of their houses and make it special, so when one walks in the street at mornings will feel like judges of rangoli competitions.
Streets in Bangalore have five-floor apartments, bungalows, empty temples, little shops with stationery and groceries, PGs with no permanent residents, and vegetable vendors at the turnings. People of the same street never talk to one another. Here and there I also see slum children walking in groups, playing in stagnant muddy rainwater and conducting cycle races; they don’t get to mingle with other children. Even if they remain in groups there is some longing in their sullen faces because they don’t have cricket bats to play cricket, no PSPs and no rackets to play shuttle. So far I have never heard people laughing in streets. They don’t greet each other, they don’t share their home-made sweets and food, they don’t bother about their neighbours and they hardly smile at them.
It is harvest period there; streets are filled with yielded rice and uzhunthu crops. You cannot see the road; it is all covered with vaikol and grains. Vehicles don’t often pass through our street so it doesn’t hinder transportation. We love to walk on those smooth but rough dry vaikol because of the rustling and crackling sound while we rub our legs against it. After a week the straws are lumped in heaps where we hide while playing hide and seek. Though they are good places to hide, sometimes we feel itchy after coming out.
Our locality also had a clear silvery vaaikal where my friends and I swim during Sundays. In my childhood I never spent my weekends at malls, workshops and coaching classes, but this stream with light pink water lilies and glassy brown water snakes made my Sundays more colourful. Adults who are regular know the depth of the vaaikal very well and they are not afraid of these snakes. But when we bathe if there is a snake coming swiftly with its tiny head above the water, we will start screaming and some brave guys would pick them with twigs and leave them on the other side. I just love being there.
Mr.Daniel called as meesakara thatha by my friends takes me to school in his aqua blue Honda Activa. He is very punctual and strict with an echoing voice and so it is obvious that he was an ex-military-man. I’ll get ready around eight and wait for my grandpa in my veranda. He takes me to school at 8:30 so meanwhile I’ll have mass entertainment by looking at those women who fight to fetch water at drinking water taps in the corner of the street for the same reason every day. I’m not tired of watching them and they are not tired of fighting. Then my grandpa takes me to school at 8:30. The scene where children run with their lunchboxes and bags to board their school buses was totally absent in my street. Students usually go on foot to the government school that is on the main road and children from middle and high class families go by bike to convents nearby with their parents.
Browny was my first pet. He is the colour of Parle-G with white uneven paint brush strokes on his body. He is not mine; he is everyone’s but he sleeps in the front veranda at my home. People in my street will get mad if anyone calls him a street dog. He is the watchman of our street. He can understand Tamil, Hindi, Sourashtra, English and Telugu too. One day when I saw a aunty shouting in Sourashtra , I wondered who she was talking to because except them no one knows it in my street. I found she was calling Browny only when I saw him coming. That was when I knew that he knows five languages. He never lets people from other streets to enter into ours unless it is a child. He has common sense and a powerful instinct. He guards our street so sincerely and gives everyone a peaceful sleep. So far there were no thefts and murders in our street. He is wise and intelligent. We all love our hero, Browny.
Commercial places like towns and junctions in my hometown have three or four textile shops, hotels, sweet stalls and theatres. We don’t have Commercial Street, Church Street or Brigade road there but still the natives are contented with their shopping. Even if they don’t take much effort in dressing they all look good in their own ways. When I went to Commercial Street I found that the whole street was filled with shops. Shivajinagar had different places for different items. Shoppers here taught me how to buy things at 50% off even if there is no sale and that is called bargaining. We don’t bargain in Palayamkottai town. There were only fixed prices but reasonable too.
Home is where the heart is and my heart says that Bangalore is an amazing place for shopping and my hometown is an amazing place to live.