The waves of nostalgia that wash over me when I think about "My Bangalore" can sometimes be overwhelming. There is no other city on the planet that I am as attached to in a deep psychic sense. After all, I spent some of my most formative years there.
Those parts of Bangalore I knew well, I knew because I had a bicycle and I cycled all over the city. I think I probably knew about half the city intimately and the other half not at all. Before the bicycle, there were the 131 and 7 doubledeckers, and the occasional 131D and 7A singledeckers. I distinctly remember standing in the hot sun, in front of what is now the KFC in Indiranagar and waiting for the buses labour their way up 100 Ft Road and then make that left onto CMH Road and then down to the Ulsoor and eventually to Devatha Plaza and the long-gone "Cash Pharmacy."
I must have made that trip in both directions hundreds of times in the years I lived in Bangalore regularly between 1983 and 1987. Sometimes I made the trip equipped with my "Exeat card" and dressed in my Bishop Cotton whites and green blazer, sometimes in casual clothes, and sometimes in khaki uniform. Most of the time I hung out the door of the bus – being about as "native" as I could possibly be. I think about that kind of recklessness now and marvel that I survived my teenage years.
When the original Casa Piccola opened, I was in the 9th standard and it was my first year back at Cottons since the earlier stint during 1977-78. It was such an immediate hit. We should have known then that there was this huge pent-up desire in the Indian consumer classes for the casual sit-down dining concept.
There was not a moment we didn’t try to save up pocket money and go there. My favorite thing to eat there was the UFO. Of course, now I know that the UFO was just pulled pieces of roasted chicken stirred together with a mixture of ketchup and mayo… but back then, it was just the most amazing thing EVER! And so very unlike anything any of us had eaten to that point.
It wasn’t really American style fast food like the KFCs and McDonalds that I had been exposed to during stays in Southeast Asia, and it sure wasn’t the local neighborhood dosa and vada place. It was Casa! And that one word captured an entire mindset and way of life for the rest of my time at Cottons and Bangalore. It was a sign that Bangalore was modern, it was cool, and we lived in it and, ironically enough, experienced it from within the walls of one of the oldest and most traditional institutions in the city at the time.
"My Bangalore" is probably gone for good. The last real connections I have to it are Cottons, of course, probably re-constructed to ever more unrecognizable modernity, and my grandparents’ house in Indiranagar. I knew every inch of both places and they knew me. Soon the house will be gone, too.
And then there will just be the original buildings of Cottons and its old St. Peter’s chapel. Of course, I shouldn’t forget to mention the Girls’ school, where I spent a bit of time, or St. Mark’s Cathedral, which was for a time a vitally important place for me. For it was only at St. Mark’s that you could actually look across the aisle and see "the girls" from the Girls’ school. How quaint…
When I left "My Bangalore" for good near the end of August of 1987, I was very eager for the next chapter of my life. I grabbed onto it with both hands and never looked back. But "My Bangalore" insistently comes back to me in quiet moments all the time.
The indelible impressions of the night watchman banging his stick on the street late at night, the imam’s calls to prayer early in the morning, the sunlight dappling through the flame of the forest trees lining the main drive of Cottons, the race from study hall to be first in line at the dining hall, the walks through Cubbon Park, and Lal Bagh, the long bicycle rides all over the city – trying as always to figure out whether going around Ulsoor Lake was shorter than going through Ulsoor itself and up CMH… to get back home.
These images are all just a thought away, along with many, many more, whether I want to think them or not. In that way, I will always be grateful that "My Bangalore" will always be with Me. ⊕