Guest column: Sin City Blues, Bangalore through Kerala`s eyes
Sin City Blues
Bangalore is home for me, and for upwards of 10 lakh Malayalis. Now, I don`t know about the other Malayalis in the city but it took me a while to realise just what Bangalore stood for in my home state of Kerala. The multiple mentions the city receives in multiple Malayalam films are all loaded with innuendo. Art imitating life in this case, the connotations are clear. Bangalore is Sin City, where all manner of vice flows free and easy, where hitherto innocent young men and women get to up to hair-raising shenanigans, where ye olde temptations of alcohol, drugs and promiscuity beckon invitingly.
All I have to ask is: dashitall, where was all this cache of drugs/sex/alcohol (rock n roll optional), when I was growing up here? Dashitall, where is it, now that the kids in the family are growing up here?
If conviction is three parts perception and one part truth, then Bangalore lost its reputation in Kerala decades ago. Back in the 80s, Malayalis visited the city for a relaxing holiday, with visits to Cubbon Park, Tipu Sultan`s palace, Lalbagh, a walk down the MG Road boulevard, benne dose at the storied MTR or Veena Stores, hot chocolate fudge ice cream at Corner House all being part of the package.
Then in the early 2000s came the effervescent movie Bangalore Days, directed with a light touch by Anjali Menon, which chronicled the lives of four young Malayalis in namma ooru. Here, what you saw was what you got: a place with a chilled buzz about it, a happy cluster of pubs and cafes, a life lived at a pace that was fast but not fast and loose.
Bangalore Days notwithstanding, arch references continued to be made onscreen and on the streets in neighbouring Kerala, in context of Bangalore denizens and the debauched life they lived in this den of inequity. They were all, to a man/woman, apparently scoring drugs, getting a lot of action and drinking like karimeen, the pearl spot fish loved and devoured by Malayalis.
Women with a Bangalore connect were branded wild, all of them tarred with one slanderous brush. Comments came thick and fast about their licentiousness, much shade was thrown at them for merely speaking good English, and as for clothing, just a glimpse of a shoulder or bare calf was enough to brand them all as seductive sirens.
That girl who laughs in unbridled fashion, who chats with men confidently, whose fingers twitch like she`s itching to hold a cigarette between them, whose lipstick is a bright bold scarlet? Why, she`s a Bangalore girl, of course.
That guy with preternaturally bloodshot eyes, wearing that stoner T-shirt, shooting lascivious looks at every woman passing by? Why, he`s a Bangalore boy, of course.
All these perceptions could and would remain a source of wry amusement but for the fact that they get cast in concrete, and immediately become singularly unfunny.
I live amongst Bangaloreans, Keralites and non-Keralites alike, who work damned hard to hack a living, who mostly come home from work dead beat, who go out for a beer with their friends when they have the energy, who do everything — eat, drink, smoke, party — in moderation, with nothing furtive about it. I am looking high and low for that Bangalorean of Kerala`s perception; yet to find them, though.
This appeared in the Sunday Express Magazine of 20 March 2022.