Subir Roy: Selective memories of a city cherished

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 02, 2012 20:40 hrs

Ten minutes out of the bank and I realised I had left the umbrella behind at the counter. The next five minutes went in trying to decide whether there was any point going back. Finally, a good half an hour after I had left, I reappeared at the bank, to find the umbrella lying on the counter, a testimony to the decency of the middle-class folks who define Bangalore.

This was so different from my experience in an amusement park in Brussels two decades ago. After the children – they were children then! – had finished their soft drinks, we moved on, only to realise in a couple of minutes that I had left the wide-angle lens of my camera behind on the cafeteria table. I rushed back, but it was gone — in less than five minutes.

Umbrella retrieved, I soon walked into the new Old Coffee House on Church Street (it had shifted there from MG Road) to spend a delightful hour, savouring not one but two cups of about the best coffee at an unbelievable Rs 14 a cup, without even the remotest hint from the waiters that we had better order more or move on. Coffee House coffee is great everywhere, but the Bangalore brew is difficult to beat.

Out on the street, my friend rummaged through his backpack to fish out something for me — which refused to come out of the confusion and surrender itself. As we lingered, I found the odour from the uncleared garbage threatening my good mood, and asked my friend to continue his search-and-seize operation a few feet away where the stink was less.

Yes, not everything about the city was great. In many ways, it was a city in decline, so different from the sparkling elegant place I had first set foot in a decade ago. Even the IT world that defined the city had changed — from a phenomenal global challenger to a slower creature approaching the end of youth, if not middle age. Then, Wipro and Infosys were striplings with unbounded energy who took global setbacks like 9/11 and the tech bubble bursting in their stride. Today, those icons looked faded. The focus of public admiration had shifted to Tata Consultancy Services (Mumbai) and Cognizant (Chennai).

But the mood lifter came soon after. The audience at the Bangalore International Centre was small but more distinguished than I could have hoped for. My views on how to create the good city whose doors were open to all – the high and mighty as well as the lowly – went down well. The acknowledgement at the end of the debt to urban experts whose wisdom I had freely plagiarised drew a wide good laugh. Where else could I get an audience like this, I thought.

Then came the usual cheering visit to my favourite dentist, not so much to get something attended to as for him to give me a status report and a list of dos and don’ts for the next few months — and, particularly, what arguments to use to ward off unnecessary procedures recommended by revenue-maximising doctors in another city.

The second to last must-do was a visit to the retina specialist who had guided me ever since an emergency happened three years ago. I had missed him during my last two examinations. And I took advantage of my age to tell him in mock seriousness that good doctors, for the sake of their patients, should not travel so much. Your retina looks quite stable, go lead a normal life and come back for a check-up after a year, he said smilingly. Why is my friend with a similar condition told by his doctor: don’t do this, don’t do that? If the science cannot be different, then it must have something to do with the geography.

The last must-do on my list will be completed tomorrow. You cannot come to town and not pay a visit to The Only Place to renew the love affair with perhaps the juiciest and the most affordable steaks in the country, and burgers almost too big to manage.

And if there is time, I will also visit the club. An interloper in one corner of Cubbon Park, it should not have got in there, but having done so, it offers its members about the greenest spot where they can enjoy a cup of coffee. And should it drizzle, as it is happening right now, a half mist will give the tree line an almost fairy-tale look. A city comes as a package deal; you cannot pick and choose. But lasting bonds are made by a selective memory — which retains what it likes, irrespective of where one may be.  

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