Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Divide the world into two – Dog Lovers and Others – Our best friend “Button” – Story of a Lhasa Apso

I do not know why the world was divided into various continents and countries, the haves and have-nots,rich and poor,East and West,developed, developing, and underdeveloped and so on. It’s all too complex. A simple way would have been to divide the world into two – Dog Lovers and Others. The world would have been a better and happier place to live in. A dog is the ultimate friend and companion. It is very difficult to explain the special relationship that human beings have with dogs. Perhaps there is no other animal like the dog which is capable of giving unlimited joy and happiness and wanting nothing in return. There is no limit to extolling the virtues of dogs.

In the fifties, not everyone kept dogs in their houses in South Bangalore and it was a rare sight to see a pet dog on a leash being taken out for a walk or someone playing ‘fetch ’ with his canine friend. Our knowledge of dogs was derived mainly from their unfortunate cousins the - stray dogs. To begin with I was not a dog lover.

My elderly cousin stayed in Jayanagar 1st Block and they owned a Pomeranian by the name of ‘Skippy’. He led a very cushy life in that house with a huge garden chasing squirrels, cats, strangers, monkeys and whatever they are required to chase. Life continued undisturbed till one fine morning when the owners suddenly realized that Skippy had skipped. The house was engulfed in despair and a sense of helplessness prevailed, as a non dogger, I for one could not fathom the mood. A few days later, an acquaintance sighted a dog resembling Skippy, in a house located on Vani Vilas road. I enrolled myself into the search and rescue team and went along with the family on operation ‘Rescue Skippy’. All that my cousin did was shout ‘Skippy’ and the dog came running into his arms. Smiles returned to their faces and all headed back to the house to celebrate. I was impressed.

There was a gap of some seven years between that incident and my next exposure to dogs. We moved into a huge house in Shankarpuram. The landlord, a retired chief magistrate, stayed in the front and we stayed in the outhouse. Between these two houses was a Guava tree, which for some unknown reason, never yielded any fruit during our entire stay of some 23 years. The magistrate for all his magistrating ability and wisdom used to tie a Silky Sydney to the Guava tree. The dog remained there all day and night- come rain, shine or storm. Had Mrs. Felicia Dorothea Hemans been alive, she would have written another ‘Casabianca’ .Instead of ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’ it would have been ‘The dog stood chained to a tree’. Cook Pachappa gave food once a day and a bath God knows when – all the while tied to the tree. I never saw Mr. P take the dog out for a walk. In due course, more miserable things happened to the dog and finally one day it was no more. Why the magistrate did not care for the dog, I have never understood.

Whilst on annual leave I visited my cousin in Frazer town. While she was busy giving final touches to the lunch I settled down on the couch with a news paper and engaged myself in some small talk. All of a sudden a huge monster came and placed his fore legs on my knees and got busy licking my face. I instantly froze and wanted to scream, but my voice failed me. The cousin, busy in the kitchen, asked me a few questions about my recent doings. When all she got was silence at my end, she came to the drawing room to see what was wrong. Later on she said that my face had turned a pale grey with sweat all over and ‘FEAR’ was written in three different languages on my broad forehead. She called out “Alex dear, be a good boy and come here”. At this Mr. Alexander the Great – a boxer, very obediently got off and went back to wherever he had come from.I was completely 'Porused'

Years went by and I became a young Lieutenant in 1975 and met a wonderful girl in Bombay. I became a frequent visitor to their house whenever my ship was in port. That was when I had my next encounter with yet another Pomeranian – Romus. When I met this little beast of roman ancestry, he was old, snappy, short tempered and totally unpredictable. Whenever I had a chance to sit close to her, he would commence barking endlessly until the entire household consisting of her strict father, mother, sister, the security Gorkha and his wife descended on me to see what terrible things I had done.

I got engaged to her expecting the dog to behave well towards me. One afternoon when I was sitting next to her, probably a few inches closer than usual and the mutt went into action and bit me in the leg. On that day I said to myself, enough is enough and told my M in L “it’s either me or him”. She did not reply and I always wondered what her answer would have been.

Very soon I was married and in due course two wonderful children came along. I was posted to Delhi. Somewhere in Dec 84 my wife’s uncle rang up to ask us over for lunch in their spacious bunglow in Chanakyapuri. Other guests included my wife’s sister and her family and the house owner’s daughter and their clan. On establishing contact with the aunt, LOH found out that uncle dear had organised a video filming session. In 1984, video filming was a great event and to be star performers meant much more. The sisters went on an overdrive and dressed up their respective children in their Sunday best. During the drive from Daula Kuan to Chanakyapuri, I was told not to come anywhere near the camera, looking like a joker in my silky blue trouser and a red striped shirt. Rajiv Gandhi had just taken over and PV Narashima Rao was yet to usher in economic reforms and pay revisions. All this had a telling effect on my wardrobe – which was limited to two trousers and two shirts.

As soon as we entered the house two pests – no typo here – Candy and Samba (C and S) welcomed us with their sharp and insistent barking. This was followed by loud retort from one of our gang members to be followed by mother telling everyone to behave or else. All this commotion woke up the little one inside who joined the endless Jugal Bandi (musical game) with his own noise making devices.

The man of the house made his formal appearance and ushered us all in to be formally introduced to ‘C and S’. The barking stopped but the mutts continued to track me and my co brother, wherever we went. The video filming session was announced and I suddenly remembered the stern warning which my wife had issued a little earlier. Time was just right and we made a very quiet exit towards the bar set up under the Jacaranda tree. We remained in the shade of the tree till lunch was announced.

During the drive back home there were ample indications that the sisters were raving mad. We decided to exercise extreme caution and did not utter a word during the entire journey. Silence is golden.

Later on when calm had descended it transpired that the lunch was to celebrate the 3rd year birthday of ‘C and S’ and the video filming was exclusively for them. The kids were just character actors and the sisters’ extras. When we actually saw the film we realized that the kids appear for some ten to twelve minutes in a two hour film. To make matters worse, all that one saw was the legs of the children and their shoes as the dogs were only six inches tall. The icing on the cake was the name of the film “Candy Samba and their little Cousins’.

That much for my wife’s uncle and his love for dogs. His attachment really went beyond the ordinary L and A – it was divine and sublime. I believe that ‘C and S’ slept inside a mosquito net. He had the carpenter make two low stools for placing their food bowls. This was to prevent any extra strain on their delicate neck during feeding time. At that time I thought that the uncle was completely batty and had lost all his marbles.

The family there after went abroad to Nigeria and we forgot all about dogs, having to deal with African tigers and lions. We came back to Bombay to pitch our tents once again. The children had grown up and soon noticed that we did not have a dog. The subject of ownership of a dog came up very often only to be shot down by LOH – who maintained that the children interest would last only for a short period and she would be saddled with all the work of feeding, bathing, walking the dog and so on.

After twelve years of marriage, six transfers, dozen houses and four schools we landed up in Visakhapatnam and moved into the top floor of a multi storied building ‘Meghna’ with an excellent view of the hills of the Eastern Ghats. Our close friend Sunder and Saroja were already there. The first evening was spent at their place.

I had hardly settled down in the sofa when she made her entry into the drawing room. I was immediately attracted to her. She radiated love, affection, warmth and a kind of look which I had never seen before. I sat there totally captivated and engrossed in her beauty. My wife was quick to notice the subtle changes in me and preferred to remain silent through the evening.

When we reached home, the children came into our room expecting me to say something. When they saw me very quiet they eagerly looked up at the mother. There was an air of expectation and hope and for some time we sat in silence and finally she said “you can keep a dog if your father agrees”.

A confirmed dog hater of 40 years had been reduced to jelly and a shameless lover in one single evening by a Lhasa Apso ‘Fluffy’. Without wasting any time I rang up Sunder and informed him about our momentous decision. I was immediately promised a male pup of choice from Fluffy’s maiden delivery.

“Apsos were bred as an interior sentinel in the Buddhist monasteries, who alerted the monks to any intruders who entered. Lhasa is the capital city of Tibet and Apso is a word in the Tibetan language meaning "bearded," so Lhasa Apso simply means "long-haired Tibetan dog." This is a hardy dog with a friendly assertive manner. Intelligent and lively, it makes a good pet. Lhasa Apsos are spirited and devoted little dogs, which are affectionate with their masters. They can be very obedient to their masters. This breed responds to motivational training. They have a keen sense of hearing, and make good watch dogs”.

One evening when Sunder and I were returning from our walk, a local grocer stopped us and offered Sunder a most handsome male Apso pup. The grocer had found it extremely difficult to look after the dog and had decided to gift it. He chose Sunder as the recipient as he had seen Fluffy a number of times on walk. On that day Fluffy found her life partner.

Four months later, when whole of US of A was preparing to celebrate their independence day Fluffy was laboring hard and precisely at 0412 hrs IST on 03 Jul 1990 she delivered the first of seven pups. The news reached Meghna and within minutes the selection committee had left home. The puppy with the Red was selected and Sunders were formally requested to reserve the pup.

On the 30th day the pup was to come home. The children skipped games and stayed at home and had invited their friends for the home coming. The LOH prepared lovely vadas and coffee for the grand event – I had taken a haircut for the occasion and the maid was instructed to dust the house all over again. The Prince of Wales arrived in a ceremonial basket and was formally adopted into our family.

Late in the evening when all others had left, the family sat together in a huddle to find a suitable name. Number of names was bandied about – what about Snow white, someone said “it’s a female name” – Santa “no he is trim” – I said Tommy and got a horrible stare in return. The process went on till midnight – Bingo, Bush, wolly and so on. That is when I felt the need for something similar to Ashta Sahsranama – a book recommending names for dogs only. Suddenly from nowhere the name ‘Button’ was heard and everything seemed to fall in palce.The only thing that was visible from the front was the dog’s dark nose resembling a button on a white sheet.

A dressing table draw was removed and suitably converted to become buttons bed. He looked extremely handsome like his father and was blessed with a pleasant temperament of his mother – Fluffy. As time passed his brothers and sisters Flojo, Bonsai, Snoopy and the rest found their shelter.

Button grew up to be a lovely person and loved by one and all. I was renamed Buttons father and Jai, buttons mother and so on by the children in navy nagar. Daughter and her friends used to dress up button as Mother Theresa play house house, doctor and patient, teacher and student with him – he really enjoyed playing with children.

Figure 1- Button Modeling

I was transferred to Delhi and the family prior to joining me decided to go to Bangalore and enjoy its salubrious climate for a while. To be able to take a dog in the train you either traveled in a coupe with two tickets or a four berther with four tickets. Al this was prior to 2 tier, 3 tier etc. I had asked for a coupe but ended up with a four berther along with a school teacher as a co passenger. When the attendant came, my wife preferring privacy pleaded with him for a coupe and warned him saying that our dog was vicious and was generally aggressive inclined towards strangers, especially school teachers. While she continued to strongly plead her case, dear Button had jumped up and comfortably settled in the teachers lap.

Figure 2 - Button with daughter, son and cousins in Bangalore

I went to Bangalore to fetch button. We travelled by air while the rest of the family came by train to Delhi. He refused to be left alone in kotah House when I went for work. And I had to take him to the office every day. It was pre 9/11 days and the DSC sentries did not see him as a security threat. He used to settle down below my table and enjoy the air conditioned atmosphere. Many officers in the directorate were ignorant of his august presence. He braved all the long and boring meetings in my office and at times used to let go a low decibel grunt expressing his disagreement or disgust at the proceedings. At times when I had to make a very important decision I used to steal a glance at button for help – if he wagged his tail vigorously then it was ‘yes’. He had quietly started aiding decision making in Naval Headquarters.

Figure 3 - How he looked most of the time

Few days later the family joined me in Kotah House. Delhi summer was impossible to bear and in all this misery Button located a mole in the cabin. The mole was code named’ Baldy’. Being a mole he lived underground and the extent of his territory extended from the bed room to the enclosed verandah. Through a network of intricate and complicated tunnels Baldy had free access to all the space below the cabin. Button declared war on Baldy and nothing mattered thereafter. Button kept vigil the whole day and night, constantly running between the three exit points, which the mole had, to the outside world. Baldy became an obsession and everything else was forgotten – dinner, play and sleep became secondary. The mole knew he was trapped and Button increased his vigil. A week went by without any attrition and state of intense war continued. During a temporary truce, I had withdrawn my forces to the bathroom for a bath when I noticed a bad bruise on Buttons nose as a result of constant rubbing against the floor.
We had no clue as to where a vet could be consulted. Luckily the same day we were able to get through to our dog loving uncle in Bangalore and sent him our SOS. He immediately directed us to a vet in Khan Market in the exclusive locality of Pandara. This was an up market shopping area for the diplomatic corps. After an hour of waiting with other dogs including a huge and ferocious Rottweiler we were ushered into the examination room.Button was immediately ticked off for coming without an appointment. After a close look, the vet recommended some ointment. During the course of the treatment he was horror-struck to learn that I had brought poor button on a two wheeler and lived in a non air-conditioned abode. After promising Dr Kapooria Jr that I would try and improve Buttons standard of life I departed after paying a huge fee.

Figure 4 - Guarding daughter

After a few days, Sunder joined Kotah House along with his dear wife Saroja and the dogs Fluffy and Snowy. With all the three Apsos running around, Kotah house resembled a small Tibetan refugee camp. Our army headed by Button with addition forces at his disposal scored a resounding victory in “The Battle of The Baldy”. Having accomplished their mission objective the awesome threesome Button, Fluffy and Snowy resumed their peace time activities such as chasing cats, squirrels and other dogs.

A few days later we shifted to our permanent abode to a flat on the 5th floor of SP Marg with an excellent view of South Delhi from the balcony. Never a dull moment, with dear Buttons. One day I took him for a walk and saw his poop resembling a rain bow, on closer examination I found to my horror, friend had eaten a handful of crayons. Once, he ate his fortnightly quota of beef in a single session – to find himself completely bloated like a balloon, sick and unable to breath.

Figure 5 - In Shimla – Kufri with us

One evening an officer from the colony along with his wife visited us. After the pleasantries were exchanged the officer came to the issue on hand and said “we own a female Apso – ‘Sherry’ and we are keen to get it mated with your dog”. Instantly my wife assumed an air of importance as we were from the boy’s side. After initiating the right queries we finally agreed to the match. The marriage would be held in the boys place. After consulting the Bangalore press calendar an auspicious date and time was selected. On the appointed day my wife decided to skip work and stay at home – just in case. Sunder by now the Director of Naval Operations working from the Naval War Room was chosen by the LOH to be the sutradahra (stage director) who would remotely monitor the proceedings. Many embarrassing questions were asked by LOH and Sunder amidst all his national responsibilities, had to find time to answer them – what questions? – Some other day!!!!Sherry went back home and Buttons bachelor days had come to an end.

64 days later Sherry delivered six healthy pups. We received our dowry – one male and one female. The male went to my sons very close friend Jaspreet who named it ‘Zipper’ saying that it had replaced buttons in the trouser. The female – ‘Woopy’ went to Sunder to give company to her grandmother Fluffy. Woopy turned out to be another Button in its temperament. It looked after Fluffy till the latter died. Sherry his first love remained ingrained in Buttons mind. Whenever Sherry was on a walk he would run to the balcony tail wagging and tongue hanging out to get a glimpse of her. I am yet to come across such attachment and love. How he came to know Sherry was on a walk still remains a mystery. He got to mate her once more in Delhi and the girl’s side was transferred. We also left Delhi in June 1995 to come to Bangalore on retirement.

Bangalore posed new challenges for Button and us. As we were on the ground floor he would run away at the slightest opportunity. Button was pro humans but totally aggressive when it came to others of his breed. He had a totally wrong perception of his size and physical prowess. His favorite past time was to chase and attack a huge Alsatian named ‘Bhima’, until one day he was literally lifted by Bhima by his neck and tossed around. Thereafter he kept away from big dogs.

Figure 6 - On a holiday to Karwar 1998

Another interesting anecdote concerning Button relates to his escapades with cockroaches. He used to enjoy catching them and putting his ears on top as they wiggled to get free, the cockroach not to be left out used to lie on his back and play dead. Button used to roll him back and start the ‘ear on top’ game all over again. This would go on endlessly, till he got bored and end the game by smacking the roach once and for all. One day he tried this game with a Wasp, which left him badly defeated and red nosed. He was good in catching rats, chasing cats and squirrels. He liked running on grass and often pretended to be a rabbit and hop around. He never liked open umbrellas and used to bark till they were closed. He had developed an uncanny knack of knowing that LOH and daughter were planning to have a head bath and he would try to run away or plead with them not to have it. The hair dryer noise was unbearable for him.
He loved idlis, dosa, upma, toast with amul butter, boiled eggs and his favorite beef cubes. He simply loved food. On one occasion we celebrated Satyanarayana pooja and retired for the night with lot of items still left in the open. My S in L an early riser was astonished to find Button slowly dragging a block of Jagerry and hiding it in my daughter’s cupboard. On examining the place, we found dry coconut, ghee packet and some dried dates – probably storing them for a rainy day.

He enjoyed coming in our car on rides and trips. The whole family went on a beach trip to Goa, Karwar and Murdeshwar. He would not let my daughter get into the sea and would bark endlessly till she came out. One day when she did not obey him, he swam into the sea and nudged her back. That was his first swim. Where ever he went, he was the king and would aggressively protect his territory.

Sometimes, in Bangalore, you come across a man with a trained monkey visiting houses and doing tricks for treats. One morning my S in L gave a sharp shriek from their bedroom on the first floor. All of us ran with Button in the lead to see what had happened only to find a monkey with coins in his mouth and a toy gun in hand. Button was seeing a monkey for the first time and not knowing what to do next, found it safe and appropriate to wet the floor.

He slept with all of us in turn. He used to spend some time with daughter dear and then lie down with my son and finally settle down below my feet. If ever I visited the bathroom he would immediately occupy me place and fall asleep. Any attempt to regain my place would be met with deep growls.

Figure 7 - Sitting by the door

It all happened when I was at sea. Button got sick and became weak, even an ordinary task of jumping on to the bed was daunting. He went silent and looked withdrawn. He waited for me to get back from sea and breathed his last at 4 AM on 14 December 1999.He passed away in my lap. He gave us endless love and affection for nine and a half fun filled years. He had many friends and well wishers outside of the family, who also felt his loss. Button left a lasting impression on all of us and even to this day we recall his life and antics with great fondness. A year later my wife wrote an article about him in the Hindu News Paper – A tribute to our dog ‘Button’. May his friendly and playful soul rest in peace.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Lessons from the sea for a landlocked city
December 4th is Navy Day. Bangalorean, Capt. M V Prabhakar, explains what the day is about for land-locked Bengaluru.

03 Dec 1971 NEW DELHI:In a radio broadcast shortly before midnight, the Prime Minister, Smt Indira Gandhi, addressed the nation. She said“ I have no doubt that by the united will of the people, the wanton and unprovoked aggression of Pakistan should be decisively and finally repelled..... In response to the call of the nation, the Indian Navy had planned a most audacious and daring attack in the history of naval warfare ‘OPERATION TRIDENT’ ...... Because we did not have a powerful navy,we were unable to dictate trading terms and conditions which were suitable to India. Britain, with a strong navy, was able to establish supremacy in the seas of their interest. After 1858, India became officially a British colony as the British crown took control of India from the East India Company.

For more information on Navy Day, please read Capt. Prabhakar's account here
Visit - http://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/articles/view/2586-navy-day

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jal Vayu Vihar Turns Twenty

If home is where the heart is
Then may your home be blessed
A shelter from the storms of life
A place of rest,
And when each day is over
And toil put in its place
Your home's dear warmth
Will bring its smile
To light the saddest face!

The above poem by poet and writer John McLeod, from a small fishing town near Edinburgh, Scotland beautifully sums up what JVV is all about; a colony where all of us live and spend our retirement in joy and happiness. On 4th December, 2010 JVV bids goodbye to her teens and turns twenty. Like our own child we have seen JVV grow from an unsure and shy toddler to a charming teenager and now it is ready to embrace adulthood with maturity and grace.

It was in August 1988, as Staff Officer Operations in Western Naval Command Mumbai, that I received an innocuous mail from Naval Headquarters asking commands to give wide publicity to the availability of a few houses in the AFNHB scheme in Bangalore. The first thing I did was to temporarily put away the letter and rush to the bank to make a DD for Rs 73,000 and become a member of JVV. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions of my life. On retirement, we moved into JVV on 06 June 1995, a little more than 15 years ago. Retirement unsettles you for a short while. The support system one had all along during our service career is no longer there to hold our hand and guide us. We are at a loss and find it hard to adjust to a new way of life, surroundings and people.

As soon as we arrived in JVV, there were familiar faces to greet us and make us feel at home. While we were settling down, food came from Balu, Surendra and the Pawas, invitations for drinks and dinner were many. Camaraderie - the hall mark of military service was available in plenty in JVV. The organization provided us with the facilities one was used to in the services such as a plumber, electrician and a mason – MES in a different avatar. Regimental shops, garbage collection at your doorstep, the all important ‘dhobi’ and other sundry services were already in place. To top it all, the entire colony was clean and tidy and in a much better shape than SP Marg Delhi, from where we were coming. Our dog, Button, a very playful Lhasa Apso, found living in JVV house on the ground floor for the first time extremely exhilarating as he could run away whenever he wanted. My daughter found admission in National Junior School and my wife, a job in the same school – popularly referred to by my son and me as the ‘back side’ school. I went to sea for long durations, knowing full well that the family would be safe and well looked after in my absence. JVV became the support system and filled the void created by retirement. The only thing missing was a bar to quench one’s thirst on a ‘make and mend’ day. To our great pleasure, we found a ready watering hole in the Sena Vihar club. We settled down quite quickly to a new way of life.

When I think of JVV, I can recall only good things that have happened to us. My daughter Akhila joined Mount Carmel College and made friends with Shubra Chadda form JVV 521, who later became our dear daughter–in–law. When my daughter’s wedding was fixed, our son-in- law to be, shifted into the secure environs of JVV, as his job involved a lot of travelling. Our children got married in Aug 2005 and both our ‘Sambhandis’ lived in JVV - We could not have asked for more.

When I go for a walk within JVV, in addition to breathing lungfuls of fresh air, I get to wish a number of people and chat with some; walking in JVV is extremely therapeutic. My NRI sister-in-law once told me in a lighter vein that the number of people I meet daily during my walk is more than what she meets in a year. The absence of noise pollution is another extraordinary feature of JVV. Tucked away amidst trees and foliage I am spared the noise of vehicular traffic, horns and the hustle and bustle of shoppers – the silence of JVV is broken only by the melodious calls of birds and at times the barking of unruly dogs or the mewing of cats. Often, just for a laugh, we imitate the call of a particular bird and are deeply amused to hear a response from the said bird.Only the other day my cousin seeing JVV for the first time remarked “I don’t feel I am in Bangalore”.

Somehow I feel extremely secure in JVV. We have had times when we left our front door or back door open and slept, our dog has stayed out all night, we have happily broken into our own house when a key has been left behind somewhere, we have sat at our neighbour’s place when locked out of the house, only to find all is safe. I recall a doctor friend of mine telling me how fascinated he was in seeing our security system.

Children love the expanse of JVV. My grand kids revel in running up and down the roads on a holiday, peddling their tricycles around, playing in the park, meeting other kids, watching a cat with her new born litter, searching for interesting dried leaves and seeds, looking at the full moon through the trees and eating their food while sitting outside (a totally novel experience, especially for my grandson coming from Mumbai).

I came in search of JVV which was under construction way back in 1988 and it was indeed a difficult task to locate it. Nobody knew where JVV was. After 22 years it is an entirely different story. Kamannahalli has grown into an up market locality, sought after by many, largely due to JVV and Sena Vihar. I call CMR circle “Times Square” as the nearby area is packed with a variety of posh restaurants that satisfy different palates, wine boutiques, top end shops, pizza houses, bakeries and coffee shops – we are totally self contained.

Another remarkable feature about JVV is the wide cultural milieu that we all live in. It is simply fascinating to see various cultures and traditions mix harmoniously in JVV. Ganapati Pooja, Deepavali, Christmas with Santa, Aiyappa, young carol singers visiting our houses, Sai Baba Bhajans, Onam festival, Koduva Day, Karwa Chauth, programmes for senior Citizens –all add to the bonhomie among our residents.
Today JVV wears a festive look - the 20th anniversary functions began yesterday - we had a quiz show. Stalls at the JVV mela was inagurated this morning. The evening is going to be busy with variety entertainment,lucky dip and loads of shopping and eating at the stalls.

JVV has become an integral part of our life and has grown on us. It reflects the ethos and cultural values of military life we so dearly cherish. As it enters adulthood let us all join hands to rededicate ourselves to make JVV a beautiful, safe and dignified colony, wherein the residents not only live but live life king size.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bengaluru Days – The Idea of Eating Out in ‘Them Days’

The idea of eating out is probably as old as time itself. Man as a hunter – gatherer was always eating out. Those days there was no eating in. Today it’s a different ball game all together. There are a number of reasons why people eat out. My dear colleague Doc Ramesh used to say that he ate at home to survive and went out to enjoy. One of my father’s friends had made ‘eating out’ a habit, every evening he would be at our palace to partake the excellent dishes which my mother offered. Much later we came to know that, the friend’s wife and Nalapaka the Hindu mythological culinary expert were not on speaking terms. Dore and Lalitha, our close friends, used to eat out very frequently when they were newly married, as both used to work. Whatever may be the reason, eating out always offers you a change from the regular fare and change is always for the better – however fleeting it may be.

Today, the opportunities to eat out are many and the places to visit are even more. Whenever I ask my son Vivek, where we should go out to eat – he has a plethora of questions which are required to be answered before he decides for you – who’s going, is it a treat, who is paying, whether you chaps are going to have drinks and so on; if you think the restaurant has been selected after you have answered all the Q’s, you are mistaken. Then comes the next volley – Chinese, Italian, Moghulai, Thai, Afghan, Continental, Sushi, Chettinad and the options are mind boggling. At the end of the meal, the situation gets even more serious, the guests generally become silent after a good meal and the person who has to pay the bill becomes even more silent and withdrawn – the silence turns to suspense and finally to shock as the bill arrives - the astronomical cost that one has to pay to ‘eat out’ in today’s Bangalore.

When we were young I mean the fifties and the sixties, eating out was never so complicated. The two most important factors for eating out namely – availability of money and restaurants were both absent. As a result ‘eating out’ actually meant ‘whatever you ate outside of your house’ not necessarily in a restaurant. Having defined eating out, it becomes easier and far simpler to recall how we ate out those days.

My earliest memory of eating out was in the canteen of Mahila Seva Samaj. Actually it was not a canteen in a traditional sense but an enclosure specially carved out for Mr Anthony. Mr A was a very short statured man with a goti beard who kept his Tuck Shop in the space below the stairs leading to the first floor of the school. Apart from many useful school related items, he also kept Pea Nut Toffee, Buns, Biscuits, Chocolates, Halcova, Acid Balls, Lemon Drops, Bulls Eye and Bananas. During class breaks one could visit Mr A and partake the goodies, provided you had the money. But M was always in short supply and therefore my visits to the tuck shop were - I would say infrequent if not rare.

Outside the school compound the availability of food and their variety increased manifold. Probably the concept of mall may have originated here. In this free retail zone, Mr John the Ice Candy man stood out. He had three varieties of ice candies, the water based ice candy being the cheapest, and then there was grated ice with coloured syrup and finally the milk candy. To eat the last one, you had to be either rich or know a friend who was rich. Shantaram was one such customer of John. In the overall scheme of things it was good to cultivate Shantu.

As we progressed to National High School, Kaka became the centre of attraction. Not to be confused with the Brazilian footballer but a simple mallu, who sold mouth watering raw mango masala, tomato slices with puri, cucumber slices with green chutney, pineapple slices with salt and red chili powder and bhel puri. All of us strongly believed that he was the best in Bengaluru. Nobody like Kaka. The Kaka craze did not end there. Many years later, I took my wife to Kaka’s place during the holidays and both gorged as if there was no tomorrow. The after effect was loud and clear as our son who was only three months old developed bad loosies.

There were other outdoor attractions, but the best, was a chap who came with sweet candy paste in a multitude of colours. The paste was carried at the end of a wooden stick and covered with plastic. He would draw the paste and make almost anything, such as a watch, car, motorcycle etc. We stood and watched him with admiration as he dished out each individual requirement. After a lapse of almost 45 years I had it once again in Disney Land in Orlando.

There was yet another chap, who came selling dried figs and dates. In addition to accepting money like all other vendors, he also bartered his figs and dates for old bronze and copper utensils. He usually came around 2 PM when all the hard working mothers went to rest for a while. Seeing this window of opportunity I would stealthily smuggle out a vessel or two and barter.

We did have our occasional trips with parents to the old MTR and Lalbagh restaurant. Once my aunt took three of her children and me to Kwality Restaurant on Brigade Road. She ordered pastries for us and went out for some shopping. To our astonishment the waiter brought a plate full of assorted pastries and kept it in front of us. Nobody knew what to do or how to proceed. After much consultation with Radha and Pammi, Prakash and I decided that all the 12 pastries had to be eaten. When aunty was presented with the bill, her face changed colour several times in a matter of minutes and finally settled down to a mix of battleship grey and stormy green. In the confines of their house the three siblings plotted against me and to this day people still believe that I was the instigator.

Keshava was academically very bright and became the head boy of his class. The duties and responsibilities of the head boy were many, but one stood out. He was required to spot the trouble makers and write their names on the black board. Satya was mortally scared of Keshava and dreaded the sight of his name on the board. Satya was down but not out. He had other trump cards up his sleeve. He was ‘Jiddi Hotlu’ owner’s son. Very soon a deal was carved out between the two. Keshava should not write the name of Satya and in return Keshava would be allowed to eat free in the hotel. Later on the rule was slightly amended to include one good friend of Keshava – yours truly. The condition being we could make use of the hotel only when Satya sat on the cash counter. In one master stroke Keshava brought a totally new meaning to “Eating Out’. In fact life itself changed for the better.

Every year my uncle from Bombay drove down with his family to spend time with our grandparents. Bombai Mama was a voracious eater who strongly believed that God had erred in giving two hands but only one mouth. An out and out gourmet who loved eating out. I looked forward to his annual visits with great anticipation. Visits to Venkateshwara Fruit Stall the only joint serving ice cream in Gandhi Bazar were very common. Visiting Vidyarthi Bhavan was a daily ritual. Parade Cafe was also his favourite haunt.

College days were spent in ’Anadhi Restaurant’ (orphan) (how it got its name still remains a mystery) on Hardinge Road now known as Pampa Maha Kavi Rasta. In our days it was owned by Mr Mani from Kerala. The USP of the hotel was, it allowed the customers to spend any amount of time and order one by two coffee or even six by twelve all on credit. Mani had only one helper by the name of Pichaiyya who also left the hotel due to some small financial misunderstanding with the owner. He had not been paid his monthly wages for over six months. Mani thereafter became owner, waiter, cook cum cleaner, creating a totally new concept in hotelliering. A unique feature of the hotel was that Mani took the order and shouted in the direction of the kitchen ‘randu’ (two) dosa and went inside to make the dosa himself and finally served it to the customer. To our friends circle Anadhi was ‘Coffee Day’ of Shankarpuram

These experiences of ‘eating out’ from the pre historic days are a far cry from what happens today. The idea of pocket money was yet to take root and making programmes with buddies was a tough task without cell phones, chatting and face book. Private transport was nonexistent and above all there was a perpetual shortage of moolah. I sometimes suspect that the RBI did not mint enough coins to go around those days.