Often quoted as the most happening place in the city, I wanted to see for myself what all the hullabaloo of the central, commercial areas of M.G Road, Brigade Road and Cubbon Park were all about, so I hopped onto a G-2 from college, ready to explore what the cosmopolitan promise of the city means. Changes are less apparent from the inside of an air conditioned car than they are on a dusty bus, on which I could feel the roads getting progressively better from Sompura Gate to my stop on M.G Road. Wider, often more crowded, fancier cars, and all the usual hubs beside the road made it seem like this could be any main road in the country, or when it is all lit up at night, it could easily be confused for any place in the world. M.G Road, then called South Parade and Brigade Road were prominent even during the colonial period where people met for both business and leisure and that’s what they meet for today too. The uniqueness is in the fact that the many layers of history show through not only in the physical landscape but also in the memories and experiences of people who live there and remember all that it used to be.
On an almost one hour bus ride, to the city center I couldn’t help but wonder how time means something quite different here than it does at home in Rishi Valley. Rishi Valley, is a remote valley in rural Andhra Pradesh, surrounded by ancient granite hills and could easily be confused for a forest by people who aren’t used to living in an environment so covered in trees, and dense overgrowth. Back home time is a lot slower and calm, and feels like an element that I can keep up with, unlike here in Bangalore where time, like everything else about the rat race is a burden. Keeping track of time is an effort, but what’s more bothersome is just the enormous amount it takes to get from one place to another. Interesting how this doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, as a friend who lives in Bangalore said “you just get used to it, and living in outskirts of the city, you haven’t seen anything yet” referring to the chaos.
My first stop was at Mayo Hall a stone and mortar structure, which was built in 1883 as a law court and today has various other functions such as housing various fractions of the BBMP (Bruhak Bangalore Mahanagara Palike), to what stands right opposite- Bangalore Central mall which came up in 2005, the contrast of architecture couldn’t be more striking. Right beside that on the same road stands a 400 year old Muneshwara temple, with bustling activity. The temple priest was kind enough to call me in and offer some ‘prasad’ saying that they were performing a ‘pooja’. While all these are places open to the public in some way, I couldn’t help but wonder how an ancient place of religion, a place of justice and a place of expensive shopping all managed to live on in the same place. Not everybody understands M.G Road in the same way, and people do come there for very different reasons, it’s just hard to notice sometimes. A young lady working in the mall said she enjoys M.G Road because the people she meets are polite, so she enjoys working here. Another woman who I met, told me that she had come there for the Gurudwara, which she visits every Sunday without fail. When I asked her what she thought about M.G Road, she said that it’s a place for the youth to enjoy.
None of this fit into my preconceived image of glamour, but I wasn’t let down as I walked on down to Brigade Road. This road is one of the busiest commercial and shopping centres in the city. Myriad flashy banners, screaming international brands, discounts and eating joints of all kinds oozed charm, and had an almost irresistible lure to them. . Brigade Road and it’s artillery roads such as Church Street, St. Marks Road and Lavelle Road especially pride themselves in the sheer number of options available, from North Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, American and authentic South Indian food both in open street food joints and fancy restaurants. Walking down the road I noticed many busy shoppers from many different ethnicities, a few of whom told me they enjoy shopping here because it’s cheap and exciting. In a sense the multiple eating joints could just be reflection of the diversity the place has to offer. What this does is that it makes almost anyone feel like they can identify with something there. One of my friends said that Brigade Road always has something to offer, and you can always find something to do. Perhaps that’s a reason for the crowds!
Asking strangers for directions inevitably leads to confusion, and retracing, going back on the same roads again and again, just gave me more time to explore the nice, wide and beautiful roads, of St Mark’s, and Church Street. Something of an old charm hangs in the atmosphere, buildings like Koshy’s, Lakeview, Nilgiri’s, are all landmarks in the city today which have lived on since the colonial era. The British apparently used to enjoy their alcohol, and this culture has sort of lived on in the cityscape, as Bangalore is often called the pub capital of India, and many of the famous ones are located on M.G Road and the areas around it.
One of the feelings I definitely took away from the people I spoke to was a sense of glamour and high spiritedness that they seemed to be attracted to. While it is a popular destination to socialize and have a good time, a lot of the people I spoke to mentioned how expensive it was. This clearly means that the road is not equally accessible or equally appealing to everyone for the same reasons. It is ironic then that it is called Mahatma Gandhi Road, when commercialization and globalization were clearly not the path that The Mahatma would have chosen for India. Maybe that’s why it’s known as MG road, which sounds posh and chic as opposed to the full form.
The last stop for the day was luckily Cubbon Park, one of the best places in the city to take some time off and breathe in some fresh air and enjoy the freedom of space. It became a lot drier than the last time I remember it but on the whole still had a reason for Bangalore to still be called the garden city of India. Sunday visits are generally more crowded, as many people seemed to enjoy the relative quiet and peace of the place. Families picnic there, and friends hang out and children run around everywhere. Cubbon Park boasts many indigenous as well as exotic species of fauna, and well paved roads for people to walk or jog on. I felt a new kind of calm here, green spaces always made me feel more comfortable, perhaps because it’s something that reminds me of home. Wherever we are we try to make something feel like our own, a space, a colour, or even silence if it brings back memories. Cubbon Park was that space for me. Finally here was a place in the heart of the city where nobody would wonder why somebody is walking alone.
While trying to find my way to Cubbon Park, I noticed a church close by, St. Marks Cathedral and decided to take a peak. Mass was over but choir practice continued and I was lucky enough to sit in on it. The church has large grounds and many trees again offering a break from the traffic on M.G Road. It was built in 1812 and was originally a garrison church for the British army and the East India Company. Today it is open to people of all religions and faiths. Other churches which are still popular in the same area are East Parade church and Holy Trinity church.
Heading out to the main road, among a sea of people I tried to see if I could make eye contact with anyone. I was surprised to see that it happened a couple of times, with strangers, some seemed to know where they were going, and others like me were probably pretending. The crowd is largely one of young people, some who come to shop, others to drink, and a few others simply come to eat and enjoy the mood in this part of the city. I noticed that I was very easily noticing all the details of glamour, and the people who were dressed stylishly, and breezed past, oblivious to those people and places that were less colourful and glittery. To make a mark in this area it seemed like you had to out compete the other person or place in how attractive one get.
When it began to get dark, twilight brought with it a whole range of glittery lights and beaty music that transformed the area. Lines outside pubs started growing and I realised it was about time I left. I began my walk back to the bus stop on M.G Road, but stopped for a quick bite on Brigade Road. An egg roll, in a booth that drew me with it’s warmth. Juicy, warm egg,cheese,fried onions,chilli and a whole lot of sauces oozing in spice and a strange happiness that only comes from street food. Beside it were similar stalls, quick and efficient service, delicious smells, and a glow and warmth which radiates, attracting more and more hungry customers around dusk. Somewhere in the chaos, the busy streets, relish of my food, and flickering lights, I began to feel nostalgic for something which I could not pinpoint, a place I never knew.
On the bus back, faint reminiscences of the day out kept coming back, I wanted to go back. Something for sure hooked me to the place, a sense that I could explore all I wanted, nobody to tell me what to do. Nobody to judge where I’m from and that makes exploring a whole lot more interesting. Even through all the chaos being alone there made me appreciate how there is always space for someone new. Seeing myself in a different place, meeting new people, meeting the charm and temptations of this hub, is always exciting. I realised that it’s okay to get lost, not have a clear path or destination, not feel prepared to take a decision. Sometimes you learn and experience something new when you’re not sure about where to go.